9 March 2016

That time astronomers chased an eclipse across the Earth, in a Concorde

On Wednesday this week, a solar eclipse gave viewers in Indonesia and the South Pacific a whole 4 minutes and 9 seconds of darkness as the moon passed in front of the sun.

But in 1972, a group of astronomers decided to try to see a longer eclipse than had ever been possible before – by boarding a prototype Concorde and chasing the eclipse across the Earth at twice the speed of sound.

The Concorde 001 taking off on its eclipse mission. Photo by Jim Lesurf

The Concorde 001 taking off on its eclipse mission. Photo by Jim Lesurf

In theory, they would have 70 minutes to watch the eclipse as the shadow raced across the Earth’s surface – ten times more than they would be able to get on the ground; and unobstructed by clouds.

They’d be able to make observations and conduct experiments that would otherwise be impossible. They succeeded, setting records and making observations that increased our understanding of things like solar corona. (We assume that this has nothing to do with the well-known beer, though a commemorative bottle wouldn’t be a bad idea…?)

We love this story, because as the article says, experiments like these remind us that innovation offers wild, unexpected dividends, and we think that can be as true in science as it can in other fields.

Also, we love looking at pictures of the old days and smiling at the goofy old people with their brown clothes and weird hair.

But seriously.. don’t stop innovating!

Read the full story over on Motherboard, and watch a video of the first Concorde flight below.