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    Our favorite eclipse-chasing stories!

    Our experts relay their favorite eclipse experiences. This is certain to help you catch the bug!

  • Jay Pasachoff

    In 2005, there was an eclipse in the middle of the Pacific. We had to go on a four-day sail west of the Galapagos Islands, and the boat we were in was made for touring around the islands - it wasn't really made for goung out to sea. So the whole boat rocked back and forth around 30 degrees, every 14 seconds, for four days. And fortunately, one of the other passengers was a doctor, who had some injectable stuff to help with the nausea. And after I had some, about an hour or two before the eclipse, he said "Wanna take a nap?" And I said, no, I'm gonna take any - any nap! Cause I wouldn't take the risk that I wouldn't wake up. I'm just gonna tough it out here!

  • Michael Bakich

    In 1979, I was driving a van along a Montana highway, with my head stuck out the window - it must have been 10 degrees below zero! But I found an opening, and actually saw the eclipse from the side of the road there.

  • Glenn Schneider

    You know, I should know the number - but I think it's like, an hour and thirty-something minutes [as of 2014]. I've forgotten how many, I should know. It's either 1:31 or 1:36, something like that.

  • Glenn Schneider

    In terms of actual time in the umbral shadow, Don Liebenberg has the record for that. He was on the Concorde on the 1973 flight, which was a supersonic chase for almost 74 minutes as they followed it across Africa. So a single eclipse right there, they got well over an hour of totality.

  • Glenn Schneider

    It's not about accumulative duration - I mean, some of the most amazing eclipses that I've seen are the shortest in duration - the 10-second, 11-second eclipse that we saw in Kenya, the zero-second eclipse I saw in 1986. I mean, those don't add to a life total duration in the shadow by very many seconds, but they're incredible phenomena to see. Now, every eclipse is different - people ask now if you've seen one, haven't you seen them all, and no - of course not! Just by the nature of the difference of the width of the Moon's shadow, and the geometry of how the Moon covers the Sun, every one is different. And the short ones are just as phenomenal as the incredibly long ones that are so rare. So, it's not about picking up seconds and accumulating time, but what it is, is seeing the diversity of eclipses - and every one holds something unique that the one before it didn't. And it keeps you coming back and seeing more.

  • Jay Pasachoff

    Well, yes. And that eclipse got down to a thousand miles an hour or so, and so it overtook them very slowly. But even so, the eclipse was going a little faster than they did for the 74 minutes (I just saw the nice exhibit at Le Bourget airport in Paris about that.) But there's an interesting philosophical question about that, because there were some - a dozen people on that plane, but in order to get the circumstances [correct] to keep up with the eclipse for an hour, that meant that they were at the equator at noon when the eclipse was high overhead. So there were four holes cut in the top of this Concorde, and just a few people - I don't even know, that there were four people who were actually looking at the eclipse! Most of the people were just in this tin can of an airplane fuselage, so they were in fact in totality, but they couldn't see the eclipse.

  • That doesn't sound like fun at all. But nowadays there are specially-chartered eclipse flights available, that people can buy tickets for - and see totality aloft!

  • Kelly Beatty

    In November of 2003, there was a total eclipse of the Sun that was crossing Antarctica. Well, the prospects were pretty slim, and there aren't that many people there! Getting there is prety challenging, especially getting to the track, which is even more challenging. So I worked with TravelQuest and Sky & Telescope to design an airborne intercept. We left from Puenta Arenas in Chile, we had chartered an Airbus 330 from Lan Chile Airlines at an incredible cost, and we flew over Antarctica, intercepted the eclipse in mid-air - which was just spectacular - and then afterward we had a little extra time on our hands, so we buzzed the South Pole, in a jumbo jet at an altitude of 1500 ft - twice, so that everyone could see. We could see people down at the South Pole, and they could see us. Then we circled around one of the tallest peaks in Antarctica - called Mt. Vincent, we kind of corkscrewed around it. It was quite an exciting trip! It lasted more than 14 hours.

  • Xavier Jubier

    Antarctica, there are two trips: one in '03, and one in '08. And both in a way are different, because '03 was a total, '08 it was annular, but it was on top of Mt. Vincent, you know - the summit of Antarctica. And in '08, only two people, you know, in fact saw that one, on the planet. The annular phase was only over Antarctica, and over that part of Antarctica there are no research stations. The only thing you have is during the summer season, a small camp, for climbing the summits that are close to the location. That's it. And when I say close to the location, it's a couple of hundred miles. So it's not that close. Plus, we have no roads, no available transportation. It's fairly remote, and even during the summer, I mean, if anything happens, there is nobody to help you. You are still on your own, at least with the small group that is, of course, over there. It's sufficiently inland, far away inside the icecap, that there's no way you can reach the coast, and have a ship bring you some supplies or give you any help. For example, you know, in '03, the Russian base is about 100km from the coast, so during the summer, the ships can just provide supplies - I mean, it's possible. In fact, this is the way [that] they are delivering the fuel. They could do it with cargo aircraft, but it's a lot easier to do it during the summer with a cargo ship. And then, in fact, to haul the whole containers to the station.

  • Michael Zeiler

    Asking what [is] your favorite eclipse is like asking who's your favorite child. They're all special, and they're all different.

  • Michael Zeiler

    If I tried to be objective, and pick one out of all that I've seen, I'd have to go with the last one [ed: 2013], even though it was the shortest one at 59 seconds. What was so remarkable about the eclipse in Gabon was that my wife and I decided to just stare at the corona through our binoculars, for all of those precious 59 seconds. And boy, were we rewarded - because one of the holy grails of seeing an eclipse is to see some remarkable feature or change in the corona. And we just got so lucky - we saw a very rare sight. We saw two coronal mass ejections - in progress - and when we were looking at the corona in real time, I recognized that these were coronal mass ejections, and I was just so giddy because I knew that it was very rare to actually see a coronal mass ejection during an eclipse, and recognize it. So that was just a very very special moment.

  • Ralph Chou

    1999 in Bucharest, Romania - we were actually at a spot further west, and we had just set up - it was about 8 in the morning. We were prepared to wait it out, and we got hit by a rainstorm. I piled everybody on the bus, we took them down the highway to try and outrun the clouds. We got to Bucharest, and bribed our way into the national soccer stadium, and set up on the field there. Perfectly clear sky, albeit a bit hazy. We got the entire eclipse. The city park, about a kilometer away - they had about a million people there, you could hear the roar of the crowds. But we were in this soccer stadium - nobody knew we were there, nobody knew about it, and we were the only people on the grounds, so we spread out and had a great time! And it turned out that the national observatory, where all the government bigwigs were, which was only a few kilometers away - they got clouded out! So, another lucky one.

  • Kelly Beatty

    You know that that's how it is sometimes - one cloud can make the difference. This was certainly the case in China in 2009, a lot of people dodged clouds; I myself, I was at an eclipse in South Africa in 2002, we were in a couple of buses, and we had Jay Anderson with us, and we were running like crazy, trying to outrun the clouds. And we got to a point where we just ran out of time. And if we had gone three miles farther down this road we were on, we'd have seen it, but we just ran out of time.

  • Michael Bakich

    [The] one I didn't see was 2009 in China. We saw the Sun two minutes before totality, and then it rained - the darkest rain I have ever seen in my life!

  • Michael Bakich

    2010, we were on Easter Island! And that was really something - I mean, talk about a Kodak moment, where you have five of the great statues - the Moai - in the foreground, and then, forty degrees up, a totally eclipsed Sun. There's something I won't soon forget.

  • Mark Margolis

    I'm with Rick Brown, Glenn Schneider, Joel Moskowitz, and a bunch of the guys. We're in China [2009], and Rick has all these extra eclipse glasses. So he brings a huge suitcase filled with eclipse glasses from every eclipse, right? So we're in Wuhan, we're on the grounds of the university, and Rick opens his suitcase and we start handing out glasses. And there's a few people, you know, from the university that show up. And within a half hour, more people start showing up, and we're handing them out. Well, probably an hour, a half hour to an hour before first contact, we have to have I don't know how many hundreds or thousands of people, have gathered in this square. Janice and I are still handing out eclipse glasses, right? Well, all of a sudden, we get rushed by a crowd of people! I mean, this is a stampede! I mean, we're standing there - we've never seen anything like this, and we are just, you wouldn't have believed it! There were these other gentlemen from the university that were yelling at the crowd in Chinese to back away, and - oh, it was a scene like you'd never seen. And I mean, of course, we gave out all the glasses, but I had no... I didn't realize we were gonna get that kind of reaction from people, and that it became - I wonder at what point it becomes like mob mentality! it was really something, man.

  • Miloslav Druckmüller

    It is a very interesting question; to work in a factory producing dynamite is definitely more peaceful for me than to observe eclipses! It is enormous stress, and up to now I haven't seen the eclipse! Of course, I saw the eclipses through the viewfinder of the camera, or I was able to look for ten [or] fifteen seconds at the sky. But typically, I have too many tasks during the eclipse, that I'm really looking for the moment where every single variable would be completely automized - and I would only push the button, and then look at the eclipse. But unfortunately, up to now, there was not this possibility. So, my feeling about the eclipse is, the eclipse is for me extremely interesting; I'm looking for all the data, but I really dislike eclipse expeditions because it is enormous stress. If you can imagine, for example, the Tatakoto expedition, there were about one and a half tons of material [to] transport to the island. Including liquid nitrogen and cooled cameras. Shadia had 14 or 16 (I don't know exactly) cooled CCD cameras, [and] about the same number of computers. I had another mount with 8 cameras and three computers. There were a lot of cables, plugs, computers - and 15 minutes before the eclipse there was heavy rain. Fortunately, the sky cleared in the correct moment. But it was such a stress that after the eclipse I was completely fried.

  • Ralph Chou

    Every eclipse is so different. There are some eclipses that basically stand out in a sky so beautifully clear. An example of that was the eclipse in Iguaçu Falls, 1994. And we flew into Iguaçu just behind a storm front, we got the eclipse, after a couple of days... you know, we drove around, crossed over from Brazil into Uruguay, into Argentina - because [at] Iguaçu, there's a town there, the three countries all come together in that area. So we were roaming all over that place, trying to find a place that would accommodate our group. And we ended up in a farmer's field on the Brazilian side. And, you know, it was a very early morning eclipse. And because the storm front had moved through the night before, it was a beautifully transparent sky. During mid-eclipse, the sky turned this deep, deep blue, and it was absolutely clear - and the bright stars around the Sun were just like diamonds on a dark navy velvet. Absolutely beautiful! And at the end, the eclipse ended, the farmers started shooting their shotguns into the sky to scare off the demons, and the rain came in - we left Iguaçu Falls in a driving thunderstorm. It was really something.

  • Ralph Chou

    Oh yeah!

  • Kelly Beatty

    The '98 eclipse, the path of totality started in the Pacific, went across Central America, and then out through the Caribbean. A lot of people wanted to see this from a cruise ship. My wife Cheryl and I were on one of the few ships in the Pacific, and one of the few editors who was left behind back at the office was Roger Sinnott, and I said Roger, on the morning of the eclipse, I'd like you to pull down a satellite photo and e-mail it to me. On the morning of the eclipse, we go bounding up to the bridge to talk to the captain, who was very grateful that we were there because we actually knew where to position the ship. And I said to the captain, "Let me see your satellite faxes from overnight". And he says, "Oh, my first mate mistakenly turned off the fax machine to save paper." And so, we had no weather information the morning of the eclipse. And Roger had come through - he had e-mailed me this photo, and the ship received the e-mail, but they had no image software - they couldn't display the image (this is 1998). And so I literally had to put a three-and-a-half-inch floppy into the ship's navigation, communication computer, pull this image up, display it... By then, we were steaming down the centerline - the photo showed that we were headed right toward a bank of cloud. And I went stompin' up to the bridge and I said "STOP THE SHIP!!" And the captain stopped the ship, and we were dead in the water for about three hours. The eclipse came, it was beautiful, everybody had a terrific time. I had saved the captain's butt by being there and telling him where to position the ship, not to go into the clouds... And that night, we walked into the dining room with our wives, and we got applause from the rest of the diners, for having navigated the ship into the right spot. But do you think in two weeks, we got to sit at the captain's table? No way. We weren't high rollers, and so we didn't get to eat with the captain - even though we had really saved his bacon!

  • Kelly Beatty

    Our first meeting with the cruise director went really well, because he'd been tipped off from a prior passenger that the eclipse was coming, that it was a big deal, and - you know, that's great. And, as I mentioned, you know, this eclipse was gonna be totality at about 10 o'clock in the morning. And I told him, I said listen, you're gonna wanna tell your hotel manager to have lots of Corona beer ready to go, and he said "yeah, but it's gonna be 10:00 in the morning". And I said, trust me, Rich, people are gonna be in a party mood, and they are going to want to drink Corona beer. Fortunately, he took my advice, and of course you know the rest of the story - people were in a party mood.

  • Michael Bakich

    You wanna hear an eclipse joke? You know you do…!

  • Michael Bakich

    I mean, there aren't many eclipse jokes.

  • Michael Bakich

    What did he say? What's he talking about?

  • Michael Bakich

    The Sun and the Moon, already tipsy, walk into a bar - and the Sun kind of stammers out, "We'd like some librations, please!"

  • Michael Bakich

    OK - [the] Sun and the Moon walk into a bar. The Moon says, "Two Coronas, please!" But the Sun says, "Yeah - but make mine a light!"

  • Fred Espenak

    A fun eclipse story took place in 1980 in Kenya. So I was on an expedition in a group with about 100 amateurs, and we were set up in a soccer field there for the eclipse. Beautiful weather on eclipse morning - we got our cameras and everything set up, and as the partial phases began, clouds started to develop. They weren't drfiting from anyplace, they were just forming in place, all over the sky, drifting very slowly. And we got nervous. And it got cloudier and cloudier, to the point where, 10 minutes before totality, it was now 90% overcast with small holes here and there. And we were watching for any sign of which motion the clouds were moving in, and we could see that the Sun was popping in and out of holes slowly drifting across the valley, and trying to time whether a hole would reach us in time. Well, it must have been about 5 minutes before totality, and we could see that we were in a bad spot. And we grabbed our guide, we grabbed a couple of our cameras - we left the telescope in place, it was too big to move quickly. And we just jumped into that van and we tore down the road, and went racing down this road in the plantation, heading for a bright spot. I saw the beginning of totality, the diamond ring, out the window. And as totality commenced, we jammed on the brakes, jumped out of the truck, and scrambled around putting cameras up as quickly as we could to catch a couple of photographs of the eclipse and observe it. And about 30 seconds before the end of totality, the hole closed up. And I could see that the patch of sunlight, now as corona-light, was moving down the road from me. Well, at that point I left the tripod behind, and I started running down the road. And I actually - the cloud was moving so slowly that I managed to run back into the hole and see the diamond ring at 3rd contact. That was when I decided that this was really, literally, eclipse chasing!

  • Joel Moskowitz

    Certainly, the one that does come to mind is '97, in Siberia. We traveled to Chita, which is just north of the Mongolia/China/Siberia border. And our railway car became our hotel; we stayed in it the night before, and we look outside and it was beautiful clear skies. And, Glenn came along and he said, uh-uh, the forecast is for cloudy weather. We had had a Russian airplane on standby, so the next morning we wake up, and sure enough it's socked in, horizon to horizon, solid. And so, we do straight to the airport, figuring we'll get on the plane. Heh! Now we had brought about, oh, I would say, six - seven thousand dollars in cash between all of us. Because we were told, well, it's modern Russia in 1997, they accept credit cards. Except not in Siberia - maybe in, you know, in Moscow, but not out there. They didn't know what plastic was, and they wanted cash. Well, at the airport we lost the plane basically, cause, see, we didn't have enough money to utilize it. And we spent a lot of time trying to negotiate with them, so we were late. So we left the airport, got on the bus, and said, well let's travel to the selected observing site anyway - one never knows, you know. So, we're traveling there, and first contact is coming up, because we're late. So I get up on the bus, and I say, you know, we may not get to see this eclipse, but an eclipse is going to occur - so a minute before first contact I'm going to say the blessing.

  • Glenn Schneider

    Joel's recitation of the שהחינו caused the clouds to part rather miraculously, and became part of our solar eclipse tradition after that.

  • Joel Moskowitz

    And so I did that, you know. About a minute before first contact I went ahead, I said the blessings. About two minutes later, it was like the parting of the Red Sea - the sky just opened up, and it was cloudy everywhere except the hole where the sun was. It was like, we bounded off that bus, we set up quickly, we saw totality - we even saw [comet] Hale-Bopp during totality, And, I mean, Craig Small was crying, because he thought he wasn't gonna see it. He's never been clouded out, and he thought this was gonna be his first cloud-out. And he - it was extremely emotional. I have to say that's the most interesting experience I've had, connected to the eclipse itself.

  • Joel Moskowitz

    OK, so the first blessing is actually adapted from the blessing of the Sun [ed: ברכת החמה - Birkat Hachamah] - I forget the interval, something like 29 years that the real religious say the blessing for the Sun when it's supposed to be in the exact position [as] at the time of Creation. And so basically it's "Baruch atah Adonai, Elohanu melekh ha’olam, oseh ma’aseh bereishit". So the first part is standard for every Jewish blessing, which is "Blessed art thou, O Lord, king of the universe." And then, the specific part is "Oseh ma’aseh bereishit" which means, "what was ordained at the time of Creation."

  • Joel Moskowitz

    And the second blessing is a generic Jewish blessing on any event that occurs for the first time each year. So you do it on holidays, the first time you see something - like if I go up, I look outside, and I see, say, a planet I've never seen naked eye before, I would say this blessing. So again it's "Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha’olam", which is "Blessed art thou, O Lord, King of the universe." And then it's, "She-hecheyanu ve’qi’eh’manu ve’higiy’anu laz’man hazeh", which means, "for bringing us in good health to this time."

  • Joel Moskowitz

    Yes, I would have to say that. You know, I have a firm belief that God listens. That's how I see it every time.

  • Joel, I have to come clean - I know that you did also recite them during our otherworldly experience in Kenya in 2013 - and we did, in fact, see totality on that occasion as well - against all odds. So, I'm sold! Thanks Joel!

  • Michael Bakich

    I do - this happened in 1994, in Chile. And we were set up, ready to go - and with three busloads of travelers - I was the astronomer on this trip. And, it just so happened that, here come the clouds! And I thought, Oh no - this was literally 20 minutes before totality! I'm running around, screaming "Everybody! Get on the bus!" We all jumped on the bus, and people took as much equipment as they could... This bus driver tore down the highway, he was doing 90 miles an hour! Now, it just so happened that they had paved this road in the direction that we wanted to go, I mean it must have been [within] months of this event. And, so we tore down the road, and just - cleared the clouds, setup, and everybody saw the eclipse! Everybody was so tense on the bus, and to be honest, a little bit afraid, too, because of the speed that this bus was going. But when we finally got there, it was kind of like a release for everybody. And that's my best story about any eclipse. It was crazy - we tipped that bus driver probably more than his yearly salary! And people were just so thankful, because I mean, these were thick clouds that were coming in, and we just ... we just headed out!

  • Kelly Beatty

    Americans are used to success. And I actually think that, obviously there are going to be a lot of people who get to see it, and they're gonna be oohing and aahing and be changed forever - because, as you know, a total eclipse is probably one of nature's grandest spectacles. And a lot of people are gonna be disappointed, because they're just gonna miss it, or they didn't find out in time, or whatever - and somehow there's, there's gonna be a lot of disappointment. And I hope that's not the case; I hope people appreciate that there's always another one, even if they miss it. And it's true that Americans are in the best position to go to this eclipse and see it, they can find the path, they can take an airliner, and with relative ease go to it. But remember, the United States, the continental U.S., is a big place. And there will be some people who will still have to travel 1500 - 2000 miles to get to totality, and so, I think it's gonna be a challenge for a lot of people, and yet, there's gonna be millions of new converts to the "Glorious Order of Umbraphiles" - people who are eclipse chasers, and have experienced it. And they'll know what we know, which is that it's just a special event every time!


  • I can't think of a better, more uplifting way to close out this very fun session. Thanks, Kelly!
    Next, we'll be diving into some very detailed eclipse topics - starting with the very important question of weather on eclipse day! Please join us for that!


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