‘Noth­ing but you and the uni­verse’

Five eclipse chasers tell why they spend time, money pur­su­ing the phe­nom­e­non.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - deb­o­rah.net­burn @la­times.com DEB­O­RAH NET­BURN

Five eclipse chasers tell why they spend time and money pur­su­ing the phe­nom­e­non.

Mil­lions of peo­ple will look up to the heav­ens on Aug. 21 as a to­tal so­lar eclipse sweeps across the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. for the first time in nearly 100 years.

For the vast ma­jor­ity of sky-watch­ers, the “Great Amer­i­can Eclipse” will be the first time they’ll ex­pe­ri­ence the eerie dark­ness that falls when the moon com­pletely ob­scures the face of the sun. But for a ded­i­cated few, eclipse chasing is a life­long habit.

The de­sire to stand again and again in the shadow of the moon has taken sci­en­tists, pho­tog­ra­phers and at least one astron­omy-lov­ing mon­signor to In­done­sia, Kenya, Bo­livia and the Arc­tic ar­chi­pel­ago, among other dis­tant lo­cales. They have char­tered planes to see the eclipse from air and hired boats to view it from the sea.

Th­ese self-pro­claimed eclipse ad­dicts track the cu­mu­la­tive num­ber of min­utes they have spent in to­tal­ity, when the sun is en­tirely cov­ered and day turns to night. They pore over weather sta­tis­tics to in­crease their chances of be­ing in a spot with clear skies. They make plans years in ad­vance.

Eclipse chasing is an ex­pen­sive pur­suit, but those who love it say it is worth it. They are cer­tain that af­ter the Great Amer­i­can Eclipse, their ranks will swell.

Be­low, five sea­soned eclipse chasers tell The Times what keeps them com­ing back.

‘You ... get this pri­mal fear’ Name: Kate Russo Oc­cu­pa­tion: Psy­chol­o­gist and con­sul­tant for com­mu­ni­ties pre­par­ing for eclipses To­tal so­lar eclipses ob­served: 10

“For me, time stops. You are there in that mo­ment — in that time, in that place — and there is noth­ing but you and the uni­verse.

“It is the uni­verse ren­dered in 3-D. You are stand­ing in the shadow of an ob­ject that is pass­ing be­tween you and the sun. The moon is out there, and it is so vast and huge you feel both in­signif­i­cant and con­nected to some­thing greater. You also get this pri­mal fear — it is re­ally pro­found and in­tense. The world is wrong.

“It’s a strong re­minder that no matter your color, back­ground or re­li­gion, we are all hu­man be­ings stand­ing on the planet, look­ing up. I strongly be­lieve that if ev­ery­one could see a to­tal eclipse, the world would be a bet­ter place.”

‘Each time you see it, it’s not enough’ Name: Mike Ken­tri­anakis Oc­cu­pa­tion: Project man­ager for the Amer­i­can As­tro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety’s So­lar Eclipse Task Force To­tal so­lar eclipses ob­served: 10

“It’s an amaz­ing sight and you want it to con­tinue. It’s like each time you see it, it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

“As soon as it’s over, the first ques­tion ev­ery­one asks is, ‘When is the next eclipse?’ Ev­ery­one says the same thing.

“It’s a cy­cle, just like the sun ris­ing each day be­cause of the ro­ta­tion of the Earth, or the or­bit of the moon mark­ing the month. There are eclipse cy­cles too, and if you fol­low them, you’ve given your­self an­other hand on your clock.

“Of course you can’t see them all. It can be too costly, too re­mote, or you have work or per­sonal af­fairs. You have to put it aside and not think about it be­cause it can tor­ment you. It’s that kind of thing.”

‘It’s the best way to travel’ Name: Ron Royer Oc­cu­pa­tion: Catholic priest, mon­signor and pho­tog­ra­pher To­tal so­lar eclipses ob­served: 15 To­tal so­lar eclipses chased: 21

“It’s the best way to travel.

“We go where the weather tells us it will be best to see the eclipse, so we usu­ally come to ar­eas that are off the tourist track. We go there, visit the peo­ple, visit any sites of in­ter­est, and the peo­ple are re­ally thrilled to see sci­en­tists.

“We’re usu­ally fly­ing to some dis­tant place, so we have to buy bat­ter­ies and other things. We’re not just regular tourists, and we’re not treated as regular tourists. “When we travel like this, we get to know what it is re­ally like in th­ese places. For the money we spend on th­ese trips you might think, why do they keep do­ing it? But even if we get clouded out, we still have a won­der­ful trip.”

‘Each one is dif­fer­ent’ Name: Joel Har­ris Oc­cu­pa­tion: Sys­tems and elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer To­tal so­lar eclipses ob­served: 19

“For me, one of the big­gest rea­sons to chase eclipses is that each one is dif­fer­ent. It’s the same stages and the same steps, but the sur­round­ings are so com­pletely dif­fer­ent, not to men­tion the peo­ple, the cul­ture and the food. I never dreamed I would go to the Aus­tralian Out­back, for ex­am­ple, or the Bo­li­vian Plateau.

“An­other driver for me is, I just en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing it hap­pen. It’s so co­in­ci­den­tal that the sun is 400 times the di­am­e­ter of the moon, and the moon is 400 times closer to the Earth. Is that an ac­ci­dent? I don’t know.”

‘Has to be ex­pe­ri­enced’ Name: Jay Pasa­choff Oc­cu­pa­tion: So­lar physi­cist To­tal so­lar eclipses ob­served: 33

“The feel­ing you get be­ing out in an eclipse is like none other and has to be ex­pe­ri­enced to be un­der­stood.

“It’s a pri­mal feel­ing that comes from hun­dreds of thou­sands of years of evo­lu­tion — you know some­thing is wrong with the or­der of things in the uni­verse when it gets dark and cold around the mid­dle of the day.

“It’s also just amaz­ing that you can go half­way around the world to an or­di­nary place, at an or­di­nary-look­ing time, and yet some­thing ex­tra­or­di­nary will hap­pen.”

Ross D. Franklin As­so­ci­ated Press

PEO­PLE AWAIT an an­nu­lar so­lar eclipse in Phoenix in 2012. Mil­lions will view the Aug. 21 to­tal eclipse.

Wes Gud­e­rian Ore­go­nian

IN 1979, peo­ple watch an eclipse in Gold­en­dale, Wash. On Aug. 21, a to­tal so­lar eclipse will be vis­i­ble across the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. for the first time since 1918.

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