Chasing eclipses for fun (and … maybe sometimes even profit)

May 01, 2014
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Bill Kramer, an eclipse chaser, saw his first total eclipse in 1972. Like a lot of chasers, his interest in astronomy "goes way back." He describes the experience as "surreal ... The sun going out in the middle of a cloudless day is amazing to behold. There is so much to see and precious little time in which to do that. The first time I saw one I was stunned in awe. 'Imagine what the ancients would have thought of that,' ran through my head. I gained what composure I could muster and started taking pictures at an accelerated rate running the camera out of film quickly. Back instantly to the eyepiece of my small telescope I watched a magnificent diamond ring unfold in the sky. Keeping the image in the eyepiece was a major challenge on a moving ship and with shaking hands, but I will never forget that view. The Eye of God winked at me!

"Words do not do the sensation of totality justice. It must be experienced. Each individual will take away something that is a function of what they bring to the event. After fifteen total solar eclipses I still marvel at the mathematics that brings us to a particular place. We can use advanced navigational instruments in conjunction with predictive software to put jet aircraft and cruise ships directly in the path under clear sky with great precision. All that, and yet I still get a bit of a shiver when totality takes place. There is some primitive reaction, a tingle of connection with the universe, along with the extreme happiness of being in the right place at the right time."

Following are some notable eclipses as seen from around the globe.

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The sun, obscured by the moon during an annular solar eclipse on May 21, 2012 in Fuzhou, Fujian Province of China. Annular eclipses occur when the moon is farther from the earth and does not block the sun entirely: The moon covers the center, and the rest of the sun looks like a ring, what some solar chasers describe as "the ring of fire."

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Three Kenyan safari guides stare through special eclipse glasses as they watch the annular eclipse of the sun in January, 2010. Fred Espenak, a.k.a. Mr. Eclipse, says that some chasers, himself included, might plan five years ahead, depending on how ambitious the trip, and the path of the eclipse in a given year. "It's about finding which track might cross a destination that appeals to you -- that's a large factor. Some eclipses are a lot more expensive than others."

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Fred and Pat Espenak gaze up at the sun during the eerie twilight of a total eclipse from a desert tent camp in Libya, March, 2006. Rob Arnott, a well-known investor and eclipse chaser, recommends not taking photographs during your first eclipse. Espenak says the same. "When you see a photograph of the eclipse, it doesn't begin to capture what the eye can capture," Arnott says. "I find it's very common, if you are traveling with a group, the start of the eclipse, the group will collectively gasp, and when it ends, tears are streaming down people's faces."

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From a small village in central Zambia, a group of boys watch the partial phases of the solar eclipse in 2001, through protective filter glasses distributed by eclipse scientists.

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The sun is obscured by the moon during an annular solar eclipse in Tokyo on Monday, May 21, 2012. Part of the allure of eclipse chasing is it helps decide when and where to travel, often to odd, ends-of-the-Earth places, but sometimes to cities, too.

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A total eclipse on Vlassof Cay, in Cairns, Australia on Nov. 14, 2012. Thousands of eclipse-watchers gathered in part of North Queensland to enjoy the solar eclipse, the first in Australia in a decade.

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