Solar Eclipse Observing and Photography - Joseph Cali


The Atacama - 21 years on

Monday 8th July, 2019.
Today, I wasn't feeling great.  In future, I'll avoid the Inca Restaurant at all costs. Overpriced, not very good and it probably made me sick to boot. Blaaah.

Solar Eclipse Sighting
I did take a walk around town when my stomach settled down. What did I find.  Well you can take tours for everything. They even have tours to last weeks solar eclipse.  Is there a Delorean fitted with a flux capacitor parked out back?

21 years ago, I didn't have enough good things to say about San Pedro. The tours were all timed to take maximum advantage of the light. If the light was best at sunset, they'd pick you up at 3pm, stay till sunset, and get you home later that night.  There were a handful of really good restaurants, one main street and a handful of side streets. 

Today, the town is a sprawling mass of hotels, hostals, restaurants, tour operators acosting you at every turn, bike hire places, sandboard tours. The streets are full of M.A.M.I.L.S. Middle Aged Men in Lycra Suits, and M.A.W.I.L.S. Middle Aged Women in Lycra Suits. At night some restaurants have live Andean pan pipe bands playing, other blare 1970's and 80's rock and roll and eeek they even have a karaoke bar. The place has become the worst kind of tourist zoo and tourist trap. I've also heard from some other guests that the tours are very rushed. People getting quickly hearded on and off the buses so they can do them in minimum time and fit more tours into the day. While I loved the way tours were run in 1998, plenty of time, timed to coincide with sunrise or sunset,  I am very glad I decided to hire a car and do my own thing this time. I can avoid a lot of the down sides if the town and enjoy the beautiful scenery out of town. San Pedro has lost its charm and given way to crass commercialism.  I'll leave here with a drive full of nice photos and try to keep the memory of the lovely quiet little backwater of 20 years ago firmly implanted in my head. 

Tuesday July 9th
Packed car with camera gear warm clothes, water and food in that order of importance. Heading south to see if the all terrain Peugeot 301 can make it to the Lascar volcano region. 

Yes it can!

Didn't think the track would be so narrow and rough but I drove the car carefully and got it in and out 5hrs all up without any damage. 
Early in the trip I saw some burritos (little donkeys) and some spectacular terrain.


As the track climbed up and between the volcanoes, the altitude was around 4300 m yet I felt nothing, not even shortness of breath. 


The track deteriorated and I decided that I'd done pretty well and decided not to push my luck.  Not the sort of place you want to get stuck!



This image took a lot of planning and preparation. Taken in the Atacama Desert early July last year 6 days after the total eclipse in Argentina. At that time of year, the Milky Way rises before sunset and sets in the wee small hours of the morning. The scorpion does a "handstand" on the horizon at around 3am. On top of that, the near first quarter Moon did not set until just after midnight making early evening astrophotography impossible. This is an occupational hazard for solar eclipse chasers. You are always occupied preparing for, observing and travelling from the solar eclipse region at new moon, everything else has to be done nearer the quarter Moon's.

I returned to San Pedro before sunset and had a quick dinner after a day trip to Volcan Lascar. I grabbed a couple of hours sleep then set my alarm for 10pm. Back in the car and a couple of hours of very careful driving over a road with occasional patches of ice and I was back at this magical location. I'd driven the road a few times by now and GPS marked all the patches where the water flowed across the road that would form ice during the night. I set up a Vixen Polarie and mounted a Samyang 14mm set at f4 on my Pentax K1. I captured the sky with 4 x 4 minute exposures at ISO 800 tracked on the Polarie. I then removed the camera and Polarie, mounted the camera on tripod and captured the landscape with another 4 minute exposure. The car thermometer was reading -19C with a still slightly warm engine somewhere near the sensor. Despite being dressed very warmly with insulated pants and a ski powder jacket, I was well and truly chilled to the bone by this stage and I packed up, got in the car, heaters on max and after another slow and careful drive back to San Pedro, arriving at 530am, I crashed into my hotel bed for the day.

All the images were raw processed in Lightroom. The four sky images were then median stacked and blended with the landscapes in Photoshop.


Wednesday 10th July, 2019.
Back up to the Pacana Caldera today.  Leisurely start.  I want to stay up until astro twilight and try some astro nightscapes with the landscape lit by the first quarter Moon.  First stop, I reunited with an old friend. Laguna Verde in Bolivia is a stunning blue/green salt lake nestled behind Juriques volcano on the Chilean border.  21 years ago, it was the last stop on a tour of the stunning lakes circuit in Bolivia before I crossed the border at Laguna Verde and entered Chile. Today there is a border post  and customs/quarantine building on the Chilean  frontier. Back then we drove a long way into Chile before going through a border check halfway to San Pedro. 

Above: On the left is the photo I took 21 years ago on slide film, scanned and printed and shown in a few exhibitions.  I sold a few copies.  On the right is the picture I took at lunchtime today.  The light is not the best and I climbed a ridge near the border so I could sneak a peek.  But more for old time sake.  My rental car has no authority to cross international borders and even if it could, you need a 4wd to get out onto the salt flat.  Instead, I walked out to the border area in Chile, but somewhere I couldn't be seen by the border police, climbed a ridge and took a peek. In 1998, the photo was taken from the far side of the lake looking back towards where I was standing yesterday.

(Above) At around 4600m and seeing this, you'd think there wasn't much water around. But turn around 180o (below) and this river provides much needed water from springs and melt water for Vicuņa to drink and to graze upon the grasses that grow around these partly frozen waters. 

The beautiful still waters of the lake at the Caldera Pacana provide a mirror surface that capture and reflect blues from the skies and reds and orange from the landscape.

Above and below: After sunset, the alpenglow gives the landscape of Pacana Caldera a luminous quality so that it seems to glow from the inside. The car thermometer was
reading -6oC when I took this but I think engine heat was causing a false reading. I am used to
-6oC in Canberra and surrounds in winter.  It felt much colder than -6oC.

Heading back to town, I stopped at the frozen river and took this photo (above) toward the end of nautical twilight about 20 mins before astronomical twilight.
The landscape is being lit by a first quarter moon.  In the photo (below) taken after onset of astronomical twilight, the Moon is illuminating both landscape and
sky.  I positioned myself so that the volcano seemed to be erupting stars into the Milky Way. By this time it was getting really cold so I called it quits and drove back.



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