An Eclipse Chaser’s Guide to Your First Eclipse

The purpose of his trip was as much to inspire people as it was to warn them of the inevitable and overwhelming crowds that would flood their towns, as he has seen happen numerous times before.

“This is two years out. They didn’t know what was coming,” Mr. Kentrianakis said. “We knew. No one can predict the future, except for an eclipse chaser.”

Here’s what he and his fellow eclipse aficionados say we should expect.

That First Eclipse

Wherever they come from, eclipse chasers often share a similar origin story that involves the first time they witnessed totality.

Kate Russo, a clinical psychologist and eclipse chaser who lives in Northern Ireland, saw her first eclipse on the coast of France in 1999.

“I thought this was my chance to see a total solar eclipse and take it off my bucket list,” she said. “How wrong I was.”

Photo

The totality viewed during an eclipse in Gabon by Mike Kentrianakis in 2013.

Credit
Allen Davis and Mike Kentrianakis

She has since written three books on eclipses, but the roller coaster of emotions she experienced the first time is still with her.

“Everyone sensed something was coming,” she said. “The world held its breath. It was eerie and quite frightening and so dramatic, and then suddenly you’re plunged into darkness.”

She was hooked, and in 2001 she traveled to Madagascar to catch her next total solar eclipse.

“That’s when I thought, ‘I’m an eclipse chaser,’” Dr. Russo said. “That’s when I discovered a map that had the paths of totality for all future eclipses. I saw that map and I thought: ‘This is the structure of my life for the next 20 years. This is where I’m going to be.’”

The chase led her to South Australia in 2002, on a Galápagos Islands cruise in 2005, Turkey in 2006, Mongolia in 2008, China in 2009, Australia again in 2012, the Faroe Islands in 2015 and Indonesia last year.

For all those eclipses and all that travel, she has spent just 22 minutes in all beneath totality.

“The endorphins kick in,” she said. “There’s an element to it that’s addictive.”

For Mr. Kentrianakis, the opportunity to see his first total solar eclipse was pure chance.

One day in 1978, when he was 14 and living on Long Island, he came across an article in his local paper about researchers preparing an expedition to Manitoba, Canada, to observe an eclipse on Feb. 26, 1979. The last line in the article announced that the team had one seat available.

Photo

Mike Kentrianakis, left, and fellow eclipse-chasers in Manitoba, Canada, to observe an eclipse on Feb. 26, 1979.

Credit
via Mike Kentrianakis

His parents let him call the researchers, who invited him to join the expedition. That February they arrived in Lundar, Manitoba, and trekked through 18 inches of snow to the field where they would observe the event.

On the day of the eclipse, one of the researchers, Fred Hess, shouted the countdown to totality. He announced every minute until the sun disappeared and a shining diamond ring appeared.

“He’s reading it out and he’s losing control,” Mr. Kentrianakis said. “He goes, ‘Look! Look! Look! Look!’”

Mr. Kentrianakis was overwhelmed by the sight, too, and for two minutes and 47 seconds he witnessed totality. (In a recording, you can hear him and the group shouting.)

Guide: How to Watch a Solar Eclipse


“I’m looking at this corona in the sky and thinking, ‘Wow, this is really strange and beautiful,’” he said.

Get to Totality

One of Mr. Kentrianakis’s mentors, Jay Pasachoff, has experienced 65 solar eclipses. But he prefers not to be called an eclipse chaser.

“I’m an eclipse preceder,” he said. “We get there before the eclipse.”

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