A lucky few get chance to be up close with solar eclipse today

Astronomy experts to take off on one-hour eclipse viewing flight as part of initiative to amalgamate aviation, science and technology

Updated - December 26, 2019 10:34 pm IST

Published - December 26, 2019 01:24 am IST - Mumbai

A Mumbai-based private jet operator has tied up with a group that promotes space and astronomy to operate a special solar eclipse viewing flight on Thursday.

The one-hour flight will carry Arvind Paranjape, director of Nehru Planetarium; Siddharth Pande, head of the Centre of Excellence for Astrobiology in Mumbai and Amity Space Centre in Delhi; astronomer Ananda Hota; and Chaitanya Giri, Gateway House fellow of space and ocean studies programme. A six-seater Beechcraft C-90 aircraft will be used for the eclipse viewing flight.

Besides this flight, a few 15-minute sorties for select invitees have also been planned, provided weather and visibility permits them. These will be in a smaller three-seater Cessna 172S aircraft operated from Juhu aerodrome and flying at 2,000 feet.


“Since we want to popularise this concept, the flights will be by invitation only,” said Arvind Jadhav, CEO of MAB Aviation, which will operate the flights.

The main flight will take off from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport around 8.30 a.m. and return to Mumbai around 9.30 a.m. It will fly towards Shirdi at an altitude of 15-20,000 feet.

Mr. Jadhav said the idea was to amalgamate aviation with science and technology and eventually look at astrotourism.

The eclipse will start at 8.04 a.m. in the city and be at its peak at 9.21 a.m. It will end around 10.55 a.m.

Mr. Paranjape said he was looking forward to the special flight. “Since it will be cloudy on ground, [being] above the clouds should give us a better view,” he said.

The Nehru Planetarium director said such an eclipse experiential flight was being organised for the first time in Mumbai. A similar aerial observation was previously done in India during the total solar eclipse on October 24, 1995, when a MiG-25 reconnaissance aircraft of the Indian Air Force was used to take images of the eclipse at an altitude of 25 km.

Mr. Paranjape said the late Arvind Bhatnagar of the Udaipur Solar Observatory had supervised the MiG-25 aircraft as it travelled along the path of the eclipse, gaining several precious minutes of observation denied to researchers stuck on the ground.

“Since the aircraft windows are on the side, it is important that the pilots ensure they fly in a way that the sun can be seen through the windows using solar filters and glasses,” he said.

Mr. Jadhav said the idea for the viewing experience came from Space Geeks, a group promoting space and astronomy. “The idea is to also do away with the superstition attached to an eclipse. Pure science shows this is not the case. This flight will only enhance the viewing experience and thrill,” he said.

Chintamani Pai, co-founder of Spece Geeks, which is the knowledge partner for the initiative, said the advantage would be that they would fly way above the clouds, making it a unique experience common in the U.S. “The eclipse will be partially visible from Mumbai. The sun will be 79% obscured by the moon. This brings [together] space, technology, aerospace and passion,” Mr. Pai said.

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