Why is it so intense?

A total solar eclipse isn’t something that you simply observe by looking up or looking through a telescope. It is a completely immersive experience – it happens above you, around you, and within you.

Irish eclipse chasers Daniel Lynch and Mary Dobbs welcome the shadow of the Moon. Published in Total Addiction (2012)

Irish eclipse chasers Daniel Lynch and Mary Dobbs welcome the shadow of the Moon. Published in Total Addiction (2012)


I have spent thousands of hours interviewing and analysing my research on the eclipse experience.  I have also spent 20 years as a Clinical Psychologist talking to people every day about their emotions.  What I can say is this – when people talk about the experience of totality, they use words that are outside the usual everyday experience.  Words such as exultation, sublime, incandescent, euphoric.  They also struggle to find the words that actually match up with the immense experience, and make up extra-long prefixes and suffixes to try to describe what they mean.  Words such as  unfathomability; unduplicability; unstoppability, inevitableness, specialness…  It’s like we have reached the edge of our language.

The two central emotions that everyone describes are AWE and some sort of unsettling fear seen in response to the creeping darkness of the shadow approaching, which I refer to as PRIMAL FEAR.  Both of these emotions are intense, and I describe these further in my book Total Addiction.

awe definition

There are also three aspects to the total solar eclipse experience, and together they make this experience really very special and unique:

1. Intellectual curiosity and rarity – a total solar eclipse occurs when there is a perfect alignment between the Sun, Moon and a particular place on Earth. At this moment, the Sun and Moon appear the exact same size – even though the Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon, and 400 times further away. This perfect alignment is what allows this amazing celestial event to occur, and the coincidence is mind-boggling.

2. The intense emotional response over a short period of time – This is a very physical event. The rules of nature as you know it are being broken, and you are experiencing something you have never felt before. The hairs on the back of your neck may stand up; you notice animals around you changing their behaviour. You are in complete awe, it is overwhelming and you cannot speak or put words to the experience. You may want to scream, to cry, to be silent – it all happens in moments. You feel euphoric, and then afterwards the post-eclipse blues can set in. So you immediately feel desperate to see the next one.

3. The transformational response to totality – The eclipse is often seen as an opportunity to reflect on life circumstances. For some, the eclipse experience is a celebration and confirmation of the life that they are living; and for others it is an opportunity to have a renewed focus. It is like you see the insignificance of the small things in life, you feel connected and part of something greater. Whatever personal meaning you place on the eclipse experience, it tends to be powerful and transformational.

These three aspects to totality are difficult to communicate to those who have never seen a total eclipse. People will understand the scientific appeal of a rare celestial event, but they cannot imagine the emotional or transformational response until they feel it.

As a result, us eclipse chasers doing interviews in the media can often come across as a bit ‘out there’. We aren’t – we are just trying to share our experience of something that is so exciting and thrilling yet is beyond words.

If you are truly listening to us, you will hear they key message – you do NOT want to miss this experience.  It truly is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the natural world.

Turkey, moments after totality. (c) Kate Russo, 2005

Turkey, moments after totality. (c) Kate Russo, 2005