1868: Eclipse Flights

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Eclipse Flights
The captain has turned on the 'fasten seat belt' sign.
Title text: The captain has turned on the 'fasten seat belt' sign.


A total solar eclipse occurred on Monday, August 21, 2017, just under a month after this comic was published. It was visible as a total eclipse in a narrow band across the contiguous United States from Oregon on the Pacific coast to South Carolina on the Atlantic. Cueball asks Megan what she is doing, which turns out to be mapping the flights of aircraft that will be flying through the path of totality during the eclipse. She has found between 50 to 100 such flights.

While most flights during the eclipse are coincidental, a few airlines had special flights planned for the occasion. Alaska Airlines, for example, chartered an invitation only flight for about 50 astronomers and serious eclipse chasers.

On the map, the center of the greatest eclipse is shown on the border between Illinois and Kentucky. Cueball says that the airlines and pilots will be prepared and aware of the situation, but Megan wonders what it would be like on a plane with an unprepared crew. The last panel shows a plane flying into the area of the eclipse with one of the crew telling the passengers that the end of the world has come.

In many cultures such as ancient Egypt, the end of the world is represented by a great darkness and the sun going out. During past eclipses, people were said to have believed the world was ending much like this comic (except without planes). This could also be a reference to 1391: Darkness as in that comic the reporters also believed a natural event to be the world ending although in a different setting.

The title text refers to the 'fasten seat belts' signs on display for the passengers, as a precautionary measure for turbulence. Many pop-culture depictions of the end of the world feature storms, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, etc; as the captain believes that the end of the world is upon them, he feels it safe to ensure his passengers are prepared for turbulence from any of the phenomena that occur during the end times. However, the precaution of having one's seat belt fastened is vastly insufficient when confronted with such catastrophic events.[citation needed]

This was the first reference to the Eclipse within a month of the totality. It was followed less than three weeks later by 1876: Eclipse Searches. The 2017 eclipse was mentioned as early as 2013 in the title text of 1302: Year in Review. And this year's New Year comic, 1779: 2017, also mentions it. Both comics express concern, in the title text, that it would be canceled/not happen.


[Cueball is standing behind Megan, looking over her shoulder as she's seated in front of her laptop.]
Cueball: What's that?
Megan: Flight plans. Looks like there will be 50 to 100 flights whose route puts them in the path of the eclipse next month.
[A map with a shaded path of the eclipse and red planes traveling is shown, with nine planes inside the path and one inside the eclipse shadow.]
Cueball: I'm sure the airlines will be prepared. Pilots know that stuff.
Megan: But can you imagine being on the one flight where the pilot didn't?
[In a more detailed scene, a Boeing 737 Next Generation airliner is shown flying over a landscape into a curtain of darkness.]
Captain: *KSSCHHH* [sound of intercom being activated]
Captain: This is your captain speaking. If you look out the right side of the plane, you'll see, uhh...
Captain: Folks, this appears to be the end times.

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This could use an image. Could someone more versed in this website's inner workings add one please? E.g. http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/03/23/sims_schneider_eclipse_mar202015.jpg.CROP.original-original.jpg -- 21:54, 26 July 2017 (UTC)

I strongly suggest this image of a total eclipse shadow taken from the Mir space station. I found it on this introductory astronomy lecture notes page linked from this excerpt:
While we often sketch the penumbra as uniform, in reality the penumbra shades gradually from the completely dark umbra out towards the edges. The reason is simple: as you move outwards away from the edge of the umbra, you will see an increasing fraction of the Sun peeking out from behind the Moon. There is a very nice Mir image of the 1999 Aug 11 eclipse shadow showing what I mean.
I also suggest that fact be included into the explanation, because the comic showing a sharp shadow transition is factually completely incorrect. 04:45, 27 July 2017 (UTC)
It's not wrong, it's just a schematic map of the path of totality. There is in fact a sharp distinction between regions that see a total eclipse and the neighbouring regions where it's only a partial eclipse. This graph clearly shows this, instead of the darkness of the shadow created by the eclipse (in which case the central path would've been pitch black). 20:33, 27 July 2017 (UTC)
On the contrary, that "sharp" transition in the Sims/Schneider image spans over a hundred miles because it was taken from an oblique tangental perspective in space. The Mir photo is pointing more directly straight down at the Earth and shows a more accurate representation. 05:19, 28 July 2017 (UTC)

I've been looking around, and couldn't find a site to give me flight information for that specific day, and overlaid on a flight path of the eclipse. Anyone have any luck? 22:03, 26 July 2017 (UTC)

Does anyone feel as though the explanation is finished? Dontknow (talk) 23:56, 11 September 2017 (UTC)

The airplane depicted is probably a Boeing 737-700. A 737 is recognisable by the "kinked" leading edge to its tail, the presence of blended winglets and a dorsal wifi antenna suggest it is the "Next Generation" series, and the length is most consistent with the -700 variant. D5xtgr (talk) 02:49, 7 June 2020 (UTC)

The xkcd also referenced the April 20 eclipse this year in a recent comic. 06:14, 8 May 2023 (UTC)