Plane Full of Scientists Got Earth’s First Glimpse of Eclipse

In Science
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ABOARD ‘SOLAR ONE’ ABOVE THE PACIFIC OCEAN — Scientists know how to party.

Fueled by strong coffee and blue- and green-frosted doughnuts, a small army of astrophysicists, astronomers and planetary scientists cheered and applauded as “Solar One” — a special Alaska Airlines flight — launched to give them the world’s very first look at Monday’s total solar eclipse.

In reality, they were strapped into a Boeing 737 that simply took off from Portland International Airport like any other jetliner. But “launched” was the word that Tanya Harrison — who is more at home with rockets than you are with your car — used reflexively.

Harrison, a Ph.D. and planetary scientist at Arizona State University, is a Very Respected Science Person. She has worked with NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Curiosity rover, and she’s now working on the space agency’s Opportunity and Mars 2020 rovers.

But Monday, decked out in a NASA T-shirt, she was sporting eclipse fingernails — black with a white swoosh, with glitter representing the sun’s corona. (“I never do my nails,” she said. But Sunday was her birthday, “so I decided to go all out.”)


Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, excitedly grabs photos aboard a chartered aircraft tracking the total solar eclipse on Monday.