Last update: 12 June 2020
Nothing can prepare you for what it’s like to experience a total solar eclipse in all its mind-blowing glory. It’s one of the most overwhelming natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed. And once you’ve seen one, it leaves you in total awe, wanting to see more. Wanting to see another one. Yes, it is highly addictive. And it may well turn you into a solar eclipse chasing umbraphile…
I experienced this sensation for the first time on 11 August 1999. On that day, we were lucky enough to see a total eclipse in Europe, where it is very rare for one to occur.
The solar eclipse in Europe
I went to the Moesel valley in Germany to see the eclipse with my brother and his friend. We stayed in a little village, strategically located near the path of totality. Things had been looking bright & sunny for weeks. But when eclipse day dawned, we were greeted by gloomy & cloud-covered skies. Stubbornly defying our feelings of discouragement, we set out to a nearby field that we had scouted out on the previous day. We settled down with a picnic lunch & a bottle of wine, filled with anticipation.
The moment you turn into an eclipse chasing umbraphile
And by a lucky stroke of chance, the clouds briefly disappeared just as the eclipse was reaching its totality. We could watch the complete show and light effects, until the clouds covered the returning sun again. We just sat there speechless, in complete & utter awe. It was a very special moment.
My first thought was ‘Whoooow! – I have got to see another one!’
Coincidence of space and time
Solar eclipses only happen because – by a freak accident of nature – the sun’s diametre is as many times bigger than the moon’s as its distance to the Earth compared to the moon’s. Which is approximately 400 times. Therefore, they look the same size from our point of view. When they are in a straight line with the Earth, it creates the illusion of the sun being completely covered by the moon. And along with this comes one of the most spectacular light shows you’re ever likely to see.
Total eclipse light effects
These effects will only occur if the sun is totally eclipsed. Even when the eclipse is 99% there is still too much light; similar to an hour or so before sunset. But as the final 1% of the sun disappears, a plethora of special effects is unleashed when the shadow of the moon comes rushing in. The horizon suddenly turns bright orange. It looks like sunset, but it’s not quite the same. Darkness rapidly increases with steely blue colours on the other side of the horizon, as if a threatening thunderstorm is approaching very fast.
Pre-eclipse steely blue sky.
Vortex of the universe
As the last tiny bit of the sun disappears, sparks of light appear like a pearly necklace. The sparks are followed by what looks like a diamond ring around the obliterated sun. Then the light goes out for a split second… And a blazing corona shoots out from all directions behind the black hole in the sky, lasting throughout the whole duration of the total eclipse.
It is as if you’re staring directly into the vortex of the universe
People start cheering in awe & admiration as if they were at a rock concert of their favourite band! Even though I had seen an eclipse before, nothing could have prepared me for the sheer beauty of seeing one in a completely cloudless sky & uninterrupted 360 degree view to all horizons, where the complete set of special effects is clearly visible.
I was so overwhelmed by the immensity of it all that I was literally moved to tears.
Once you’ve experienced this magic, it will stay with you forever
But it will also leave you restless, addicted and yearning for another one. When you’ve been exposed to it, you will never fully recover 😉
Eclipse insanity in Egypt
In 2006 I finally had the chance to see my second one. I went on a trip to Egypt, structured around chasing the eclipse that took place on 29 March in El Sallum, near the Libyan border. A desolate place on the edge of the desert, where no tourist would normally venture. But now a distinctive atmosphere of excitement hung in the air, as thousands of people from all over the world gathered there to witness the eclipse. I was surprised to see how well it was organized, considering the normal daily life chaos that is so evident in Egypt.
Eclipse bedouin tents at El Sallum, Egypt.
The solar eclipse in El Sallum
The place had to be de-mined specifically to accommodate the eclipse event, as there were still lots of WW-II bombs & other nasty stuff lying around. No-one had been bothered to clean it up before. Up until the last minute, no-one knew exactly what had been organized, and what facilities could be expected. When we arrived at the crack of dawn, we were pleasantly surprised to find large bedouin style tents set up, complete with rickety tables and chairs inside, and even a toilet unit. Nearby was a roadside coffeeshop, where local musicians were playing traditional flute & percussion music outside to entertain the crowds.
It was almost like a festival party atmosphere!
Solar eclipse chasing
After Germany and Egypt, I was well & truly hit by a stroke of eclipse insanity. It triggered me to go to China in 2009, and Australia in 2012 to chase the eclipses happening there.
With almost 6½ minutes of totality, the 2009 one in China was going to be the mega-eclipse of all eclipses. Unfortunately, I didn’t get so lucky this time aound… Brilliant sunshine the day before and the day after, but on eclipse day dark clouds blackened the sky more than the eclipse itself. I could just catch a glimpse of the first 30 seconds of totality, before the heavy cloud curtain relentlessly closed again…
Eclipse chasing remains a wild & unpredictable gamble! 😉
When is the next solar eclipse?
The next total eclipse will be on 14 December 2020. It takes place in central Chile and Argentina. The path of totality moves across the entire width of the countries, from the South Atlantic to the South Pacific Ocean. The nearest city is Temuco in Chile, just straddling the northern edge of the path of totality. Puerto Montt in Chile and Bariloche in Argentina are a few hundred kilometres south of the totality zone.
A solar eclipse happens somewhere in the world every year or 2, in vastly different locations. Time and Date has a site with a continuous update of worldwide solar eclipses. Including a handy overview of eclipse paths, a list with all types of upcoming solar and lunar eclipses, and further information about each eclipse. And a countown timer to the next one!
Even with thorough preparation and analysis of where the most favourable weather conditions are likely to be, you can still get lucked out with view-disturbing clouds. Make sure your’re in an area that’s worth exploring in itself, regardless of the eclipse.
Better luck chasing the eclipse @ Palmer River in North Queensland, Australia 2012.
The mind-blowing experience of a solar eclipse
Dr. Kate Russo is an authority on chasing eclipses, the effects of experiencing an eclipse on the human brain, and the mind-boggling amount of logistics and planning involved when a solar eclipse happens to occur in your area. Some excellent stories and unique scientific research can be found on her website Being in the Shadow. She played an active role in the community planning for the eclipses in Australia 2012, Faroe Islands 2015 and USA 2017.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
This is one of the most popular stories across all Wilderness Coffee & Natural High pages. I published it originally in 2006 on MySpace (way back when it was still a social media platform), on my own Facebook page on 21 March 2015, and on this blog on 14 February 2017.
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