How far would you travel to experience a total solar eclipse? With one in 2017 across the U.S. and another coming on April 8, 2024, many Americans will be happy to wait until totality visits them.
Eclipse-chasers don’t wait. A total solar eclipse occurs on our planet roughly once every year or two—and traveling to witness something truly astonishing in a place they likely would never have ever visited is, for most eclipse-chasers, part of the fun.
That certainly applies to the next total solar eclipse later this week on April 20, 2023 in the southern hemisphere. Rising as an eclipsed Sun in the Indian Ocean and setting as an eclipsed sunset in the Pacific, the path of totality shaves the tiny town of Exmouth in Western Australia, moves across many remote islands and atolls, the little-visited country of Timor Leste, the Banda Sea and remote West Papua in Indonesia.
The Sun will block for the Moon for a maximum of just 76 seconds, but the duration is not the point. It’s that it happens at all.
That the Sun and the Moon appear precisely the same size in our sky is a celestial coincidence; the Sun is 400 times farther than the Moon, which is 400 times smaller. Why waste that incredible luck?
Now it’s time to meet the eclipse-chasers:
Eclipse-chasers in Timor Leste: 76 seconds totality
Up to 50,000 people will observe a minute of totality from Exmouth in Western Australia, but maximum totality of about 76 seconds will occur close to Timor Leste. “We will arrive at the eastern end of the island a few days before, and if the highlands are prone to cloud cover, we will observe from the beach,” said Geoffrey Stephen Carr, 62, a teacher from Darwin, Australia, who will travel on a motorcycle around the country with two other eclipse-chasers to experience what will be his third total solar eclipse. “We’ll observe as close to the centerline as possible to get those previous few extra seconds.”
However, Carr has a plan if clouds thwart his attempts to view the Sun’s corona during totality. “If clouds are prevalent everywhere, we’ll probably find a place within a forest with a view of the patch of sky where the eclipse will occur so we can see the reaction of the wildlife,” he said, recalling a previous eclipse in Melbourne during which the birds went into a frenzy with the sudden onset of darkness.
“If I had the means, I would travel to the edges of the Earth to see every eclipse, he said. “Each one has surprises in store, and each was breathtaking—I urge everyone who hasn’t seen an eclipse to see at least one in their lifetime.”
Eclipse-chasers in the Lowendal Islands: 65 seconds totality
If you think Timor Leste is remote, try the Lowendal Islands, 37 nautical miles off the coast off the northwest coast of Western Australia. “We’ll be using high speed motorboats for our adventure and we’ll set up on the beach,” said Tim Todd at T.E.I. Tours & Travel, who’s witnessed 15 total solar eclipses, organizing tours for many of them. A couple of scientists will conduct experiments from the islands whatever happens, “but if there’s any chance of clouds partially or fully obscuring our view we will zip around at potential speeds of up to 28 knots to get below a ‘blue spot’ so we don’t miss that spectacular view of totality,” said Todd.
Why go somewhere so remote? Todd likes to go somewhere different from the crowd if possible, particularly if it means a better chance of a clear sky and/or a longer period of totality. In 2016 he witnessed a total solar eclipse from Woleai Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, a three day, 400 miles trip from Yap in Micronesia. “We had to bring gifts to present to the local chiefs … when we reached the beach a circle were waiting for us—it was quite a ceremony.”
Eclipse-chasers in West Papua: 69 seconds totality
For some eclipse-chasers this particular trip is as much about diving and snorkeling—after all, it goes across numerous fringing reefs, including Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia, the coast off Timor Leste and one of the best reefs in the world around West Papua.
U.S.-based Coral Triangle Adventures is taking 16 intrepid diehard snorkelers—two of them dedicated eclipse-chasers—on a snorkeling trip to West Papua timed to coincide with totality. “It can be either a trip to witness a solar eclipse in one of the world’s most exotic environments with the chance to snorkel upon the world’s healthiest and richest reefs, or the rare opportunity to snorkel some of the most remote and pristine reefs with the chance to see a solar eclipse,” said co-owner Lee Goldman, who has organized seven solar eclipse/snorkeling trips.
Beginning and ending in Jakarta, Indonesia, the trip will sail through the Banda Sea among high limestone islands—all covered by raw jungle—and witness 69 seconds of totality off the coast of Fak Fak in Triton Bay, West Papua.
Eclipse-chasers in Exmouth: 60 seconds totality
It’s ironic that the most popular destination for eclipse-chasers—both for organized tours and for Western Australians—has the shortest totality of all at barely a minute. Exmouth, a tiny town, population 5,000, is a 13 hour drive from Perth. It’s remote, but 50,000 visitors are expected. It lacks mobility in case of clouds (there’s only one road in and out), though it’s the place to be for solar scientists.
Eclipse-chaser Bob Baer, a specialist in the School of Physics & Applied Physics at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, will lead a four-person team—including students—to test a new platform for broadcasting eclipses. The plan is to provide telescope feeds for NASA EDGE during the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse that passes over Carbondale.
“The eclipse experience is something few will receive in their lifetime, and these students have the opportunity to do that twice,” said Baer. “Once in Australia and again during the upcoming total solar eclipse in the U.S.”
However, there’s one eclipse-chaser that is doing something truly special—and slightly confusing …
Eclipse-chasers in Micronesia: 0 seconds totality
What could be rarer than a view of a total solar eclipse from somewhere that just barely misses out on the spectacle? That’s the plan for veteran eclipse-chaser Patrick Poitevin from Tissington in the UK, who is traveling to the south coast of Kosrae in Micronesia, a tiny island with a population of just 6,000.
After seeing 50 solar eclipses—24 of them total solar eclipses—Poitevin is well used to attempting to see something unusual. “I will be outside the path of totality,” he says, where he admits he won’t see the incredible visual spectacles on offer during totality—chiefly a full view of the solar corona. “I am hoping to see the F-corona [a faint ring created by sunlight bouncing off dust particles] during totality and “Baily’s beads” before and after totality, or at least the Moon swimming along the solar edge,” said Poitevin, but he’s not sure. He will likely see a prolonged ‘diamond ring’ visible for several minutes. Nobody is really sure because eclipse-chasers almost always head for the center of the path of totality to experience the longest totality possible. The only way to get an answer to the question “what is visible just outside the path of totality?” is to stand there. “If no one does, nobody will ever know … I love doing things that others do not do,” he said.
Why chase total solar eclipses?
To the uninitiated, eclipse-chasing might seem crazy and/or frivolous. To anyone who’s experienced a totality and loves exploring the world in an authentic and unexpected way, total solar eclipses are a gift from nature that keeps on giving.
Experiencing a total solar eclipse means witnessing something truly astonishing. Those that get to witness totality see a strange silvery twilight washing over a landscape. They feel the air around them chill and see weird shadows move across the ground. For brief moments they get to gaze naked-eye at the Sun’s mighty white corona as they battle internal angst that the Sun, our life-giver, has gone —and then unbridled joy as it returns.
Disclaimer: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and author of The Complete Guide To The Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.