Lunar eclipse: what the Qantas blood super moon flight looked like to nowhere

Sydney (CNN) – The moon was illuminated a brilliant coppery red, large and radiant in the night sky.

And as people on the ground in Australia and New Zealand and parts of the western United States watched to admire this rare blood super moon eclipse on May 26, the best view of the astronomical wonder is perhaps 43,000 feet in the sky – on board a “flight to nowhere” operated by Qantas.

Skimming the skies over Sydney Harbor for three hours, 180 travelers took advantage of a front row seat for this spectacular lunar event.

“It was wonderful, I think I never saw [the moon] earth, ”passenger Abdullah Khurram told CNN.

Tickets for the flight sold out in 2.5 minutes, as flight-hungry Australian travelers – currently limited to travel within the country or to New Zealand as part of the travel bubble – seized the opportunity for a joyful ride with a view.

“Rare” event

A super moon occurs when the moon is at its closest point in its orbit with the Earth, which means the moon appears brighter and larger to the human eye.

During this time, a total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow and therefore appears darker and redder.

“The color red comes from sunlight filtering through Earth’s atmosphere – a ring of light created by all of the sunrises and sunsets that are happening around our planet at that time,” explains NASA on its website.

All passengers on the Qantas supermoon flight had the chance to take photos of the rare spectacle.

Brent Winstone / Qantas

Qantas worked with astronomer Dr. Vanessa Moss to create “the optimal flight path over the Pacific Ocean”. The airline plotted the flight path around the path of the rising moon and the time of the total eclipse.

The goal? Guarantee some pretty spectacular lunar views for all passengers on board, who had paid between $ 499 for an economy class ticket ($ 386) and $ 1,499 ($ ​​1,160) for a business class seat.

Astronomer Moss, who was also on the flight to provide commentary and entertain travelers with lunar information, told CNN ahead of the flight that a blood super moon eclipse was a rather unusual occurrence.

“Individually, a super moon and a total lunar eclipse are not that rare, but when you combine the two, it can be quite rare,” she said.

Australia won’t see another super blood moon until 2033, Moss added.

Experience on board

The flight took place on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, chosen because of its large windows which provide optimal opportunities for observing the moon.

When the eclipse began at 9:11 p.m. local time, the crew dimmed the cabin lights. As the moon passed through the darkest part of Earth’s shadow, passengers experienced wholeness for 14 minutes and 30 seconds.

The flight was led by Captain Alex Passerini (left).

The flight was led by Captain Alex Passerini (left).

Brent Winstone / Qantas

Qantas Chief Technical Pilot Captain Alex Passerini flew the plane first north from Sydney Airport and then south, intending to give all passengers on board the chance to look at the moon, take a photo or two and live the experience.

“Normally we are on fixed routes, but Air Services Australia has given us the freedom to operate in a certain area of ​​the airspace, which will allow us to continue to maneuver the aircraft, just to keep this moon in. the best position, “Passerini told CNN.

The pilot, who has spent much of the pandemic flying repatriation flights and carrying cargo, commented on the travelers’ ‘energy’ and said it was a treat to fly a group of excited passengers .

Aviation enthusiast Rory Ding told CNN he was excited not only to see this rare lunar event from the air, but also to have the chance to fly a 787 Dreamliner for the first time since the pandemic began. hit Australia.

The view from the plane window “was unlike anything I had seen before,” Ding said.

Ding, who was seated in economy class, said there was a good atmosphere on board, with passengers letting other passengers sit in the window seats to make sure they got a glimpse of the eclipse.

Passenger Aaron Seeto told CNN that even though he had an aisle seat, his seatmate shared the view from the window with him.

“It was amazing,” Seeto said. “Especially just seeing him so high in the sky with your eyes.”

Ding was also impressed with the lunar view.

“There was a very deep red glow on the moon, it was detailed and captivating.”

Ding believes that the “flights to nowhere” is a “win-win”.

“Airlines can keep their planes in the sky and the personnel employed,” he said. “From a passenger perspective, it’s a great way to experience that feeling of excitement you used to get when traveling overseas on a long-awaited trip.”

Seeto agrees.

“It’s a great idea, more should be done.”

Flight to nowhere

Like many airlines, Qantas has struggled financially during the pandemic – and with Australia largely closed to intentional travel, much of the carrier’s fleet has been grounded for more than a year.

The supermoon flight is the latest in a series of Qantas flights to nowhere, which started in October with a flight over some of Australia’s most famous landmarks.

Some have criticized Qantas for burning fuel unnecessarily during the climate crisis. Last fall, a Friends of the Earth spokesperson told CNN Travel that they viewed the flight as “essentially the definition of unnecessary travel.”

Qantas has pledged to offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the October flight and plans to do the same for the supermoon flight.

Francesca Street was reporting from London

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