The airline hosted around 90 guests for a private charter flight from Portland International Airport destined for a point some 800 miles west of the Oregon Coast where it would greet the heart of the solar eclipse.
The jet flew for nearly three hours over the Pacific Ocean to intercept the eclipse, allowing passengers to watch full blockage of the sun from their seats. Excitement on the plane built as Hayden Planetarium instructor Joe Rao counted down the final seconds before the moon blacked out the sun.
"I love this. Any chance I get, I grab an opportunity like this," said Michael Barratt, an aerospace physician and astronaut who flew on the final mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 2011. Pointing to Harrison and her ASU colleague Evgenya Shkolnik, an astrophysicist specializing in exoplanets and stars, he said: "The real rock stars are those who do the astronomy."
Jasmine Shepherd, 26, won a seat on the flight through a social media contest. She says the eclipse was hard to process. But she wants to see it again.
The shadow of the moon was moving at about 4,000 mph, while Solar One topped out at about one-eighth of that. So the plan was to approach the sun from the south and "side-swipe" the spectacle, said Brian Holm, Alaska Airlines' 737 fleet captain.
Thanks to some advanced, constantly adjusted calculations, the flight headed west over the ocean and then north to intercept the eclipse right on time.
The sun’s corona created a clear ring around the black hole that covered the disk. For a fleeting moment, as the sun’s first rays began to emerge on the other side of the shadow – viewed through the darkened eclipse glasses – it sparkled at one end like a diamond ring. Up to that point in the flight, the plane’s wings had reflected the glare of the sun. During the one minute and 43 seconds of totality, they slipped into shadow. The sky above was a dark, dark blue. Yet there was not the blackness one might have experienced on the ground. For beyond the shadow, to left and right, the sun still shone.