Flight To Comet Sold Out But There Are Other Options

Astronomers are calling 2013 “the year of the comet” as the first of two comets set to swing by Earth comes within view of the naked eye. Some avid sky watchers may be viewing with binoculars. Others may get an even closer view, thanks to a German travel agency.

On March 16, Eclipse Travel of Bonn, Germany, will have Air Berlin’s flight 1000 full of stargazers, giving them two hours closer to the comet than anyone else on the planet.

The company will fill just 88 of the 144 seats on board the Boeing 737-700, allowing everyone to have a window view at an average ticket price of $500 per person, reports TravelMole.

Wish you had booked a seat? Is astronomy your passion? You have options.

Closer to home, Spears Travel of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has a Sky & Telescope’s Iceland Aurora Adventure set for April 7. Currently, the event is also sold out, but they are accepting names for a waiting list. The seven-night astronomy adventure to view the northern lights in Iceland sold for $2995 per person.Eclipse Tours of Houston, Texas, has more options, planning trips through 2015. Providing guided expeditions of astronomical events throughout the world, Eclipse Tours is the home of Ring of Fire Expeditions (ROFE), the longest consecutive astronomical tour organization in the United States.

This year, Eclipse will visit the island of Tarawa, Kiribati, for its 41st Annular Solar Eclipse Tour in May and space is still available. Another tour heads to Guadalcanal in the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands for a post-eclipse tour.

Even more exotic, Melitatrips, a Travel + Leisure world’s best-award winner, takes the road less traveled for stargazing excursions from Argentina to Zimbabwe. This year, Melitatrips has a Kenya Total Solar Eclipse Safari promising unrivaled views “from the place where man was born,” according to its website. An English Astronomers Tour returns to where the greatest scientific researchers once lived and worked, with stops in London and surrounding towns of Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, with a special visit to Greenwich Observatory and the Maritime Museum.

Sound interesting but not in the budget?

Northern hemisphere stargazers who look to the west as the sun sets should note that just to the left of the horizon they should be able to see the comet Pan-STARRS over the next few days.

“Comets visible to the naked eye are a rare delicacy in the celestial smorgasbord of objects in the nighttime sky,” says NASA on its Asteroid and Comet watch page that offers viewing tips and more information about asteroids and other near-Earth objects.

Another option? Google Sky.

[Photo credit – Flickr user ϟStormLoverSwin93ϟ]

Video Of The Day: Kiribati Sinking

A Sinking Nation” from NPR on Vimeo.

Kiribati (pronounced kirr-i-bas) is an island nation spread across a chunk of the Pacific Ocean as big as Alaska two times over. But for all of the room Kiribati covers in distance, it accumulates virtually no space vertically. The average height of Kiribati land is just six and a half feet above sea level. Composed of 32 atolls and one raised coral, most of the nation’s 100,000 inhabitants cluster in near the nation’s capital, Tarawa. But space is running out. A single storm effortlessly vanishes houses into the sea and unfortunately, this is the fate most scientists and citizens believe belongs to Kiribati: the sea. According to this video produced by NPR, the island nation is especially vulnerable and in danger. Kiribati President Anote Tong has voiced concern over the rising seas, stating that it could ultimately lead to the demise of island countries like Kiribati. These statements have been loosely countered by findings published in the New Scientist magazine stating that the island is actually expanding due to coral debris. However hopeful land accumulation via coral debris may seem to some, the heart of the matter is that the core of Kiribati may soon be washed away and even newly risen land will likely face the same fate in this low-lying nation.

Kiribati: A Disappearing Nation?

Ever since I read J. Maarten Troost’s hilarious book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, I’ve wanted to visit the island nation in which the story takes place: Kiribati. It appears that there’s not a whole lot to do there — except go diving and savor a culture fairly different from my own — but that’s sort of the point.

Kiribati — a remote nation of 33 islands, 14 hours by plane from the nearest land mass — occupies roughly 2 million square miles. Most of that, of course, is Pacific Ocean. Recently, the government shocked the world when it created the world’s third largest marine park in the area. In some ways, setting aside so much area to a marine park may have been proactive. After all, it appears Kiribati is disappearing one inch at a time.

Thanks to global warming, sea levels are rising, slowly claiming the land that hundreds of thousands of people currently occupy. Anote Tong, the region’s president, expects Kiribati to be unlivable soon; unless something is done soon, he fears the entire nation will be gone — its people, its language, its culture — within 50 years. If you’re interested in learning more about Kiribati’s disappearing act, check out Bill Weir’s excellent video report of the island that’s slowly sinking. Pay no attention to the ironic commercial that precedes the video.

Guess I need to make my travel plans soon.