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A passenger aboard a Lufthansa flight watches a solar eclipse out the window in March 2015. Passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight will have a similar opportunity on Tuesday. (Credit: Lufthansa via YouTube)
A passenger aboard a Lufthansa flight watches a solar eclipse out the window in March 2015. Passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight will have a similar opportunity on Tuesday. (Credit: Lufthansa via YouTube)

Now, that’s service: Amateur astronomers persuaded Seattle-based Alaska Airlines to shift its departure time for Tuesday’s flight from Anchorage to Honolulu 25 minutes later so that passengers can see a total solar eclipse en route.

“It’s an unbelievably accommodating gesture,” Mike Kentrianakis, solar eclipse project manager for the American Astronomical Society, said in an Alaska Airlines blog post about the schedule shift. “Not only is Alaska Airlines getting people from Point A to Point B, but they’re willing to give them an exciting flight experience.”

Thanks to the time change, the passengers on Alaska Flight 870 are now due to see a minute and 53 seconds of totality out the window from a height of 37,000 feet, well above any clouds. (But if you haven’t bought a ticket, don’t bother looking; the flight’s sold out.)

Intercepting an eclipse
The flight path for Flight 870 intersects the path of totality for Tuesday’s eclipse. (Credit: Alaska Airlines)

The maneuver was engineered by Joe Rao, an associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium as well as a columnist for Space.com and meteorologist for News 12 Westchester in New York.

Rao started making plans to catch this week’s eclipse a year ago, but he worried that the view from Indonesia or Micronesia might be clouded out during monsoon season. So he checked to see if any commercial airline flights intersected with the narrow path of totality. Flight 870 was the one that stuck out. Only problem was, the plane would pass through too early.

Watch the total solar eclipse online – and get ready for 2017’s big one

He and other astronomers took their case for delaying the departure to Alaska Airlines, and the schedule planning team decided to make it happen. Thanks to discussions with air traffic controllers, the Alaska crew will have the flexibility to change their course en route to Honolulu to keep their date with the eclipse.

Rao and about a dozen other astronomers booked seats on the flight months ago, but many of the other Hawaii-bound passengers may not know what’s coming. The astronomers are bringing along hundreds of eclipse-filter glasses so everyone on the plane can watch the eclipse’s partial phase safely. (The glasses won’t be needed during totality.)

“We on the Alaska Airlines flight will be the last people in the world to see this eclipse,” said Craig Small, a semi-retired astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History who booked 7F, a window seat. “Nobody will see it after us.”

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