While Monday’s total solar eclipse in the U.S. will be a once-in-a-lifetime sky show for millions, there’s a small group of people who have experienced it all before and they can’t get enough of it.
Glenn Schneider has seen 33. Fred Espenak has watched 28. Donald Liebenberg has logged 26. For newbie Kate Russo, it’s 10 and counting.
These veteran eclipse chasers spend lots of money and craft intricate plans all to experience another mid-day darkening of the sky. Many work in science and related fields and they’ll travel around the world, even to Antarctica, to see one more.
“I do this not so much as an avocation, but as an addiction,” said Schneider, a University of Arizona astronomer.
Russo, a psychologist in Ireland who wrote a book about people’s eclipse experiences, said some people find the experience life-changing. That happened to her.
“Eclipse chasing isn’t just a hobby or interest,” Russo wrote in an email from Wyoming, where she traveled to see Monday’s eclipse. “Eclipse chasing is a way of life. It becomes who you are.”
Monday’s eclipse will cut a 70-mile-wide (112 kilometer) path of totality across the country, when the moon moves between Earth and the sun, blocking it for as much as 2 ? minutes. It’s the first coast-to-coast full eclipse since 1918. Many of the big eclipse chasers are planning to be in Oregon or Wyoming because there’s a better chance of clear weather there in August. They’ll be ready to drive hundreds of miles if need be to find good weather.
Total solar eclipses happen on average every 18 months or so, but they usually aren’t near easy-to-drive highways. Norma Liebenberg has been to a dozen, mostly joining her avid eclipse watcher husband, Donald, in remote places like Libya, Zambia and Western China.
“It’s sort of mind-boggling that there are 1,000 people out in these isolated places to see it,” she said. She even forgave her husband when he missed their first anniversary to go to a clouded-out eclipse in the South Pacific.
There’s a compulsiveness to eclipse chasers, especially photographers, said Dr. Gordon Telepun, an Alabama plastic surgeon who has seen only three.
“It’s very anxiety producing, it’s very challenging,” said Telepun, who even developed a talking phone app that times an eclipse so photographers don’t miss anything. “It’s an adrenaline rush man, I’m telling you.”
Telepun said his hero is “Mr. Eclipse” Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist, who explains why chasers are the way they are.