Tue, 21 May 2024
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Solar Eclipse 2024: The world's eclipse chasers arrive in North America

Update : 06 Apr 2024, 18:30

It was 25 years ago when Kate Russo saw her very first total solar eclipse. The Australian psychologist was living in Northern Ireland at the time and had always wanted to witness the spectacle in person.

She was in between her Masters and PhD studies in her 20s when, in 1999, the path of totality happened to cross nearby over the southern coast of France.

"I thought it was going to be just my first - my only - experience of an eclipse," Ms Russo said. "Something you haven't experienced and then you do and you're like, 'that's pretty cool.'"

Instead, what she saw that day changed her life forever, sparking a life-long journey of studying and chasing solar eclipses around the globe.

On Monday, Ms Russo will watch her 14th total solar eclipse, this time in Uvalde, Texas. She is one of many eclipse chasers who have arrived in North America in recent days.

Experts estimate that more than a million people from inside and outside North America will travel towards the path of totality.

Many are individuals who have combined their love of astronomy, exploration, science and travel into a mission to see as many eclipses in their lifetime as possible.

Some are driven by their love of space and desire to understand the universe around them. Others, like Ms Russo, pursue the indescribable feeling that comes with seeing a total solar eclipse in person. 

The 51-year-old recalled how standing in the shadow of the moon for the first time was an "immersive and emotional" experience.

A total solar eclipse, by definition, occurs when the moon's shadow covers the sun's rays entirely, plunging those in the shadow's path into darkness for a few minutes.

But Ms Russo said experiencing it was much more than that.

She described feeling a drop in temperature and the wind picking up around her, as if a storm was approaching. She also noticed the colours of her surroundings being drained in the absence of the sun's rays, except for an orange, reddish glow around the horizon and a thin ring of light in the sky - also known as the corona.

"Moments before you're looking at the sun," she said of the moment the eclipse begins. "Now, there's just a hole in the sky where the sun should be. It's like everything is turned upside down."

Ms Russo said the experience inspired her to study people's emotional response to witnessing a total solar eclipse.

Almost always, she said, there is a predictable sequence in which people take-in an eclipse: it begins with a sense of wrongness and primal fear, followed by a feeling of connectedness and insignificance. Then comes the euphoria, and the desire to repeat those feelings all over again.

Even those who are more scientifically-minded, she noticed, can't help but stare at an eclipse with awe.

"Regardless of culture or your language, people have that same experience and it makes them feel part of something greater." BBC 

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