TOTALITY

This astronomer watching an eclipse from an airplane is the happiest man in the world

What was the happiest moment of your life? Remember that feeling, magnify it by 100, and then you’d be close to astronomer Mike Kentrianakis’s contagious joy at the sight of yesterday’s (March 8) total solar eclipse.

Kentrianakis was one of a group of astronomers aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 870 when the plane intersected with the path of totality of a total solar eclipse—the route the moon’s shadow traces over the face of the earth.

Kentrianakis, a solar eclipse project manager for the American Astronomical Society, recorded a video of the visually stunning event. His excitement level is roughly that of a Carolina Panthers fan who finds himself in line behind Cam Newton at Chipotle.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Here we go. Look at this,” Kentrianakis says in the heady seconds before alignment occurs. “Oh my God. It’s coming. The moon’s shadow is coming!”

While he does not burst into tears à la Paul “Bear” Vasquez, the man whose emotional encounter with a double rainbow at Yosemite National Park has been watched more than 42 million times on YouTube, Kentrianakis’s joy at the moment of eclipse is contagious.

“I got corona! There it is! Look at that! Totality! Totality! Oh my God! Look at that! Totality!” he can be heard shouting. “Look at the moon! Full shadow! Completely elongated! 7 o clock! Prominences!”

The midair encounter with the astronomical marvel was no accident. Joe Rao, associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, figured out last year that the flight from Anchorage to Honolulu would line up perfectly with the path of totality. It was scheduled to depart 25 minutes too early to get the best view.

Rao contacted Alaska Airlines. In a move that has possibly earned the company lifetime loyalty from astronomers everywhere, the airline agreed to reschedule the flight. At least seven passengers, Kentrianakis included, booked the flight specifically to witness the event.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search