My 2020 tour in collaboration with The Independent Traveller is now finalised.
This will be my third eclipse tour withThe Independent Traveller. After our incredible experience of totality in Wyoming in August 2017, we are again offering something special and unique in astronomy travel, suitable for both new and experienced chasers.
The tour will be led by me, and will be of appeal to those who want to have a great eclipse experience with a beautiful scenic outlook. Clear skies, glacial lakes, and volcanos anyone??
Rosemary, the owner of The Independent Traveller, has been running tours in South America for many years, and has extensive contacts on the ground. During her visit in January, she was able to secure exclusive use of a really beautiful viewing location in an area with excellent weather prospects, and some quite exclusive accommodation too. A difficult mix to achieve in this part of Patagonia.
Here are the bare details:
Six night tour, commencing and ending in Buenos Aires
Viewing from the Argentinian side of the Andes, giving us excellent weather prospects
Very comfortable hotel options, ensuring a quality experience
Pre- and post-eclipse briefings
Exclusive eclipse viewing site
Transport options in the unlikely event of poor weather at our primary viewing location
Estimated maximum numbers of 60
For more details of this tour, including pricing options, please register your interest here – and mention our special code word: OPTIMISM. Rosemary will answer all of your questions, and will be delighted to help you with the tour and some pretty incredible add-ons as well.
Interest is high, and there is no doubt that this tour will sell out.
We will not be offering a tour for 2019, although I will of course be traveling independently.
I look forward to welcoming you on this tour in 2020.
Four years ago today, on the morning of November 14 2012, the total solar eclipse was visible over Far North Queensland. As an eclipse chaser, for the first time in my life, all I had to do to get into the path of totality was to go home.
I spent the first 17 years of my life in this region – just outside of the path of totality. I may live far away, but North Queensland is my home, where my family still live, and it is in my blood. I return home as often as I can, often staying months at a time.
North Queensland is an amazing destination of world-heritage and very unique nature experiences – it truly is a tropical paradise. The perfect location to host the most incredible nature show there is – a total solar eclipse.
The locals were quite slow to warm up to the idea that the eclipse was going to be a big thing, and relevant to them. Us North Queenslanders’ are known for out laid-back outlook on life, and resilience and strong community connection in the face of adversity. We are shaped by our environment, and in this beautiful part of the world, nature can be harsh.
The year before the eclipse, the region was hit with a record-breaking category five cyclone – Yasi – that threatened Cairns but devastated smaller communities to the south. The impact of Cyclone Yasi was felt across the north, up and down the coast, as homes were devastated, people were displaced, farming and tourism infrastructure damaged, and livelihoods lost. The 2012 total eclipse could not have come at a better time. This was to be a positive nature event, one that could again unite the community in celebration, as well as draw in tens of thousands of tourists from around the world. It was time to showcase the region again. The eclipse was estimated to bring in 30,000 people, with an estimated $75 million for the local economy. Things were looking up.
The path of totality for the total eclipse in 2012 was 179km wide, from Bloomfield in the north, to Innisfail to the south. Within the path were the coastal towns including Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove; and the inland remote communities of Mareeba, Mt Carbine, Palmer River and Lakeland. Those viewing from inland locations were promised clear skies, and coastal locations were forecast to have patchy cloud.
As the crowds began to pour into the region, the reality and scale of the event was obvious. In the final week, eclipse mania prevailed, and it was all anyone could talk about.
And then the day arrived. It was a double dawn like no other – tens of thousands of people woke up early to experience the total eclipse with their family, friends and loved ones.
Sunrise occurred at around 5.38am on this special day, with the Moon starting its show across the Sun less than ten minutes later. Nature arose, to only be confused again moments later. The main event – totality – occurred at round 6.40am. At that time, the ever-present noise of nature in this tropical paradise was suddenly silenced, replaced by the delighted screams of the locals and visitors seeing this natural wonder for the first time in this location in over one thousand years.
Some were luckier than others. Those of us viewing from inland were indeed greeted with clear skies. Those viewing from the coast, however, had a mixed experience; with cloud patches spoiling the view for people even just hundreds of meters apart. Clouds may have spoiled the view for some, but it certainly did not spoil the mood, the excitement and the buzz.
The buzz was fever-pitched for about a week afterwards. Everyone wanted to know – “where were you? What did you see?” People shared their stories, their photos, their memories, and their renewed ideas.
But soon, life started to slowly return to normal. Tourists began to leave, and the slow pace of life returned. Yet life seemed different.
The benefit to the region was significant. Visitor numbers were over double what was initially estimated. The economic boost to the region was estimated to be at least $130 million, with a longer-term benefit for the regional tourism sector. But for every person there on that day, standing in the shadow of the Moon – no value that can be placed on that experience. To witness a total solar eclipse in your own community is unique, intense, profound, and will be with you for a lifetime.
My book Totality: The total solar eclipse of 2012 in Far North Queensland tells the story of this eclipse, from the perspectives of many locals and visitors observing all across the north. And the images are gorgeous!! Order the ebook for just US$12.
It was the clearest total eclipse I have seen since Mongolia in 2008. That’s a long time to wait.
We saw totality from Wayu Village, high up in the mountains above Palu city, with sweeping views of the whole bay to the north, and down the valley to the centreline towards the south. You could not have picked a better vantage point.
The skies were clear, the Sun was high up, and the atmosphere electric. At first contact, a traditional music song was played, sounding like a single didgeridoo, which echoed down the valley. It was tremendous. There were further cultural performances – eclipse dances, chanting. We were high above the festivities though, it was difficult to fully see what was happening. but the music drifted upwards.
It was hot – why do I always forget to wear sunscreen?? The temperature at first contact was 31.5 Celsius, and over time it dropped slowly until after totality when it registered 24.5 degrees. The light went weird, birds were confused, and it was thrilling.
The shadow was not as pronounced as other eclipses, but the moment of second contact was incredible. The diamond ring hung there beautifully and seemed to last a lifetime. And then – totality. I screamed with delight as that familiar shadow fully covered all on that sacred mountain. We whooped, cheered, hugged, and stood in silence at the wonder before us. It felt like forever. Two planets were clearly visible, although the sky did not darken too much. I had a quick glance through binoculars and saw an incomplete but beautiful corona and prominences at 9 o’clock, both of which were clearly visible without binoculars. The shadow was much more pronounced from behind. The light on the horizon was beautiful. I was so grateful that the clouds stayed away.
And then third contact – always over too soon.
I was incredibly lucky to have this eclipse experience documented by MetroTV. I must say that spending days with the crew really added to the whole experience, and it was such a privilege to share that with them.
There is so much more to say. This eclipse will always be very special because of how we shared it – amongst the local population, our experience to be shared with the local community. What a wonderful, bonding and precious time that was.
Afterwards, I did a post-eclipse research workshop at the Sulawesi Eclipse Festival, where we shared the eclipse experience. It was a very special time.
The documentary featuring this eclipse experience, the research I have done, the pre- and post-eclipse workshops I did at the Eclipse Festival, and interviews – all will be aired across Indonesia to millions. What a wonderful way of sharing this amazing natural phenomena. The below clip is the promotional video for the full show.
As an eclipse chaser, I plan ahead and know where I will be on specific dates a few years in advance. This means that I am always on ‘eclipse countdown’, using eclipse maps as a scaffold for my future. This may seem rather geeky, but I think it’s rather cool and it also is quite typical eclipse chaser behavior.
Today just happens to be a significant eclipse countdown day. In exactly two years time, on August 21 2017, the path of totality will start in the North Pacific Ocean, make landfall on the Oregon coast, cross the whole of the US to South Carolina and then continue on into the North Atlantic. This is a significant eclipse as it will be easily accessible for tens of millions of people, and is the first to cross the mainland US since 1979.
At this very moment I am in Portland, Oregon not far from where this path of totality makes landfall. I am taking part in an eclipse outreach planning meeting, along with other astronomers, researchers, science educators and involved eclipse chasers. The meeting is held to coincide with this eclipse countdown day, and I will be doing a talk open to the general public along with some key eclipse gurus. Today, Americans across the path of totality will be encouraged to look towards the sky at eclipse time. Key things are to see the exact location of the Sun at first contact and totality time; to observe the weather, and to start considering plans for viewing in 2017. How lucky they are to have this occur in their home territory – something I know well from the eclipse of 2012 that went across North Queensland in Australia, where I am from.
Of course, in two years time on August 21 I know exactly where I will be – viewing this amazing event from within the stunning Grand Teton National Park with my fellow Independent Travellers. Rosemary and Natalie have cleverly secured arrangements in one of the most in-demand locations in the US for the eclipse. Our base is in Jackson Hole near to the centerline. This location really is amazing – both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks can be easily explored, and both have been on my travel wish list for many years. I’m excited about this trip and I cannot wait, although I know from my countdown that there are two full years to go.
But that’s not all. There is another eclipse countdown also occurring this weekend. There are now only 200 days to go for the next total solar eclipse on March 9 2016. The path of totality for this next eclipse crosses Indonesia. I will be in Palu and will be quite involved with the Sulawesi Eclipse Festival. Happily, I will be able to use the opportunity to do more of my psychological research, delving further into the eclipse experience from the perspective of younger travellers.
As well as keeping an eye on future eclipse countdowns, us eclipse chasers often reminisce about past eclipses. Every total eclipse remains special, and marks these awe-inspiring and life-enhancing moments we have in memorable locations across the world. This month marks an especially significant eclipse moment for me – my very first total solar eclipse on August 11 1999, which I saw in Fecamp, France. Those of you who have read my account of this in my first book Total Addiction will know how special it was, and how it marked my transition from an ‘eclipse virgin’ to ‘eclipse chaser’. It really did transform my life, and I had no idea that it would do so. August also marks the 2008 total eclipse that I saw from outer Mongolia – what an incredible and unique experience that was.
Being an eclipse chaser is so rewarding – we look forward to and remember these moments, savoring the awe and beauty of each and every eclipse. I know from my research and personal experience that this makes us appreciate life and the experiences we have, for which we are humbly grateful. How wonderful it is to be an eclipse chaser.
You cannot open a newspaper, read a magazine or go online lately without seeing a list of ‘top 10’ things to do or places to go this year.
What was especially noticeable this year was the presence of ‘seeing a total solar eclipse’ on most of these lists. I can’t recall any other time when eclipse chasing appeared to be so high on the agenda. I suspect the main driver for this is the fact that in 2017 the path of totality makes its way across North America from west to east coast, and as a result public interest is at an all time high.
I absolutely agree that seeing a total solar eclipse is worthy of being on everyone’s aspiration list. The experience is other-worldly and beyond expectation. If you have not seen one, then you will not truly understand the buzz and experience until you are standing in the shadow of the Moon, mouth agog and the hair on the back of your neck standing up at sublime beauty of totality. It is at this moment that you will ask yourself why you took so long to see one.
If seeing these ‘top 10’ lists have whetted your appetite for eclipse chasing, then you would have noticed that your 2015 options for land based eclipse viewing is limited – either the remote Faroe Islands, or rugged Svalbard. The eclipse in March is a little off-season for visiting both of these arctic locations. Despite this, many intrepid and die-hard chasers, and those seeking out-of-the-way adventures, have already planned their trips and soon will be packing their warm clothing. I’ve been banging on about the Faroe Islands now for two years!
But what if you feel the locations on offer are too challenging to get to, too expensive, or if you are not interested in cold weather viewing? Then you may like to know that 2016 might be a better year for you to have your eclipse experience. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, the path of totality for the total solar eclipse of March 2016 goes right across Indonesia. There are some fabulous travel opportunities with tours being arranged on land and sea. Whatever your preference – exotic, luxury, adventure, or completely off-the-beaten track, you will find interesting options. I will be heading to Sulawesi to see this (my 10th) total eclipse, and attending an Eclipse Festival where I will be able to do further research about the eclipse experience, while experiencing this amazingly diverse country.
Secondly, there is a second eclipse option – an annular solar eclipse takes place in September 2016. An annular eclipse is not as dramatic as a total eclipse (see my article here for the difference), but it is still an amazing sight to see the ‘ring of fire’ as the Moon almost covers the Sun. As in a total eclipse, you have to be within the path of annularity to see the ring of fire, which passes across central Africa, Madagascar and beyond. Top of the pick is Tanzania, where the eclipse coincides with the wildebeest migration, so it will be all about nature and wildlife.
So, if you have already ruled out an arctic total solar eclipse for this year, then make sure to explore options for chasing eclipses for 2016. But get in before those ‘top 10’ lists are published next year – I suspect if you wait for these lists to appear you may well miss the boat.
One of the concerns about the up-and-coming total solar eclipse is the weather experienced along the path of totality during the month of March. Existing weather statistics for the Faroe Islands taken from Vagar Airport collected over the past 20 years show that there is a high occurrence of cloud in March, and a high occurrence of precipitation.
However, there are two main problems with using this historical data for eclipse planning. Firstly, the average weather statistics at one location in the Faroe Islands tell us nothing about the circumstances at locations across the islands. And secondly, the average monthly weather statistics tell us little about weather at ‘eclipse time’ – from 8.40-10.40am.
For these reasons, I participated in a Citizen Science weather project in March 2014, exactly one year before the eclipse. Dr Geoff Sims – Australian Astrophysicist, Eclipse Photographer and fellow chaser – led the project.
Citizen science is where researchers involve the community to collect data to answer a specific question. In this case, we wanted to know what the weather was like at eclipse time, for the month of March, at various locations across the islands. A number of locals took photographs of the Sun every morning at 9.40am (the time of totality) from their home or work location. These photographs were then rated using a 5 point scale, from clear skies to completely overcast. The observations were also compared with the six-hour forecast to determine accuracy of predictions.
The following generalisations could be made:
As predicted, there was a lot of cloud. However, on most days the Sun could be seen in at least one location at eclipse time;
There were several days where the weather was clear over most of the archipelago at eclipse time;
Some locations in the islands were more frequently cloudier than others at eclipse time, giving worse viewing odds;
The six-hour weather forecasts were not entirely accurate, with cloud appearing when clear skies were forecast, and some visibility where full cloud was forecast.
The results of this citizen science project confirmed my own direct observations of where to focus eclipse viewing in the Faroe Islands. It also confirmed the anecdotal views of local people.
Citizen science projects do have some limitations. However, this project allowed us to gather information about a practical problem in a way that was quick, inexpensive and which involved the local community one year in advance of the total eclipse.
Despite all this, we will still be very much at the whim of Mother Nature on 20th March 2015. We can explore historical climate patterns, but as the saying goes, climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get.
I recently have partnered with The Independent Traveller and am now leading the Eclipse Tour to the Faroe Islands in 2015. We went recently to explore the islands, to identify several potential eclipse viewing sites, and the many other logistical things that are required when finalising a tour. I find the islands a fascinating place – so remote yet very connected to the outside world. The islands are dramatic – you cannot escape nature here. The people are warm and welcoming, and I love the ‘land of maybe’ attitude – things may or may not happen, all depending upon the weather.
What is interesting about the islands is that people were not really aware of what was going to happen in 2015. We spoke to a lot of people, and I did an evening presentation about the eclipse and the locals are very keen to be involved. The media were very interested in interviewing us. The interest is there, but there is this interesting parallel perhaps related to the ‘land of maybe’ attitude that little has yet been centrally coordinated. This is changing, however. In the meantime, I’m still going to come across as that crazy lady who gets excited about something that is happening quite a long time in the future.
Another interesting thing about the Faroe Islands is that they experienced a Total Solar Eclipse in 1954 – within living memory. Many people we spoke to recalled their parents talking about the eclipse, or else experienced it for themselves. Our tour guide, Olaf, described how he was playing football outside with a few friends when it suddenly went dark. He recalled being terrified and running into the house. Others seemed to be aware that the eclipse was happening. It is certainly an amazingly beautiful place to observe a total eclipse. The weather is going to be a little bit of a challenge – the islands are renowned for unstable weather. You cannot predict the weather, nor can you control what happens. But what you can do is to obtain local guidance and plan what you can and have back up plans. Having been there, I am more confident about seeing the eclipse. Transport and communication networks are excellent, meaning you can easily relocate the night before / early morning based on the weather.
I can’t wait to return to these lovely islands. If it wasn’t for the eclipse, I probably would never have visited. Eclipse chasing certainly allows you to experience so much more in life and opens up to many rich experiences.
The total eclipse of November 14 2012 was my 8th total eclipse. Yet it was still as magical, amazing, and wondrous as ever. This eclipse seemed particularly beautiful – the diamond ring seemed to hang suspended in time; and the eclipsed Sun appeared to be larger than I recall from previous total eclipses.
Every total eclipse seems different to the last. This is because there are so many things that vary during each eclipse, and this produces a different experience each time. The position of the Sun in the sky, the landscape before you, the time of day, the company you are with, and the country you are in all influence the eclipse experience. As many in North Queensland will also tell you, the presence of clouds also influences the experience of totality.
For me, the country and customs of people around contribute very strongly to the eclipse experience I have. I was delighted to have experienced this eclipse on my home turf. This made it very special indeed, and has made me want to do all I can to share the experience with my fellow North Queenslanders. It has also made me want to ensure other communities who are in the path of the eclipse in the future realise the importance of this unique event.
I am often asked to describe the difference between a Total and an Annular Solar Eclipse.
The key difference is that the Moon is further away from the Earth during an Annular as compared to a Total Eclipse. This gives the appearance of the Moon being smaller in the sky, and it no longer completely covers the Sun. Instead, a ‘ring of fire’ remains – the Sun still emits direct light. Even though the light is greatly reduced, it is still not possible to safely view with the naked eye. Filters must be used throughout. As a result, key features of the Total Solar Eclipse are missing.
An Annular eclipse is pretty special, but if you are used to seeing a Total Eclipse then an Annular feels like a great buildup and then the peak just doesn’t happen. This is the reason why Geordie jokes that he “won’t get out of bed for anything less than a Total’ these days.
What does it feel like to experience a partial eclipse, an Annular, and a Total? To me, it comes down to the degree of immersion and intensity. On a scale of 0 to 10 of immersion and intensity, a partial eclipse I would rate about a 4 – it is interesting, it makes you think about the Universe in a three dimensional way, it makes you feel insignificant, you become aware of the inevitability of the Universal clock. An Annular Eclipse I would rate about a 9 – there are added experiences such as the gradual dimming of light, animal reactions, the approaching darkness, and seeing the Ring. It is pretty awesome. On the same scale, I would rate a Total Solar Eclipse as – 100. This is because once you experience the Total Eclipse you realize that it is on a completely different scale altogether, and just cannot be compared. It completely blows you away.
My own metaphor to describe the partial versus Annular versus Total Eclipse experience is to consider this musical scenario:
You have just received word that your favorite band in the world will be playing – and they are coming to your town! You queue up, feeling very excited when you purchase your tickets. Finally the day comes and you make your way to the venue. You find a spot that is close to the front, and it just so happens to give you a great line of sight of everything. The support band plays for an hour and you get caught up in the excitement, waving your arms in the air and dancing away as one with the crowd. The support band ends their set, and the crowd starts cheering excitedly, building up a crescendo of noise and screams until the moment arrives – your band comes on stage! You see them! You are beside yourself with excitement. For the next two hours, the band plays all of your favorite songs, and you feel like you are in your own little world, just you and the band, as you are part of this magical moment. You have the experience of a lifetime. You go home that evening feeling so incredibly lucky, and content with your life.
Here’s the comparison – seeing a partial is like getting your tickets to the concert. An Annular Eclipse would be like seeing the support act and then going home. The Total is experiencing the whole thing.
For those in Australia and the Pacific, enjoy the show on Friday 10 May. I will remain in bed for this Annular – but I will be watching live webcasts as it approaches midnight here in Belfast, wishing I were there.
At my Brisbane book launch, I was speaking with Terry, an eclipse chaser who did a lot of media during the last total eclipse in November 2012. Terry recounted how every local person he interviewed immediately after the eclipse to share their experience could only say a few words – “It was awesome”. “It was amazing”. People repeatedly struggled to find words. I was not surprised to hear this – this is how I felt after my first eclipse experience, and it really did take quite a while to be able to put language to the experience. Many eclipse chasers have stories of being near others who experience it for their first time, and seeing their reactions – being totally overwhelmed and unable to speak, or just repeatedly saying ‘wow’.
Even when we then are able to connect again with our brains after the experience, our language seems unable to express the intensity of what we have felt. The experience of totality requires us to expand our mental structures in order to understand – not unlike the experience of childbirth or other significant life-changing experiences. This is why we cannot explain it to those who have not experienced it – it is ineffable.
The problem is, when intense things happen to us, we want to share our experiences. We want to talk to others – to connect with others. When we try to explain to others who weren’t there, we sound a little crazy and fanatical, and it becomes frustrating. We just cannot convey the power of the event, how it impacted upon us personally, and the ‘addictive’ nature of the experience.
I have now spent hundreds of hours interviewing people about their eclipse experiences – eclipse chasers and people who have just seen their first total eclipse. These interviews usually are very fluent until we get to the point where totality occurs, and people stumble, slow down, pepper their words with ‘you know’, ‘it was like….’, ‘um, you know’, ‘…just awesome’. People are reassured that I understand what they are trying to convey as I have been there, and this allows them to continue on with their struggle of finding the words, and with prompting and continued discussion we usually get to a point where the full experience is shared. With all of these interviews, I have now noticed a few patterns when people try to explain the inexplicable:
Adding extra prefixes and suffixes – The ‘specialness’ of the experience and the ‘unfathomability’ of the darkness of the Moon that looks out at you like an eye just cannot be described, along with other features. For example, the ‘unduplicability’ of the colors on the horizon. The ‘unstoppability’ as the Moons’ shadow races towards you, and the ‘inevitableness’ of the eclipse happening and there is nothing that we can do about it. We just feel the need to add extra dimensions to our words to convey how amazing it is.
Overuse of similes – When people struggle with finding the words, they then try to find similar experiences to compare to, so that the things can be communicated through experience rather than through words. ‘It was like CGI graphics’; “light was like a 50’s film’; the eclipsed Sun was ‘like a hole in the sky’, or ‘like the eye of god’, and the remainder of the partial eclipse grinned down ‘like a Cheshire cat’. Totality felt ‘like anything could happen’, and you are shocked ‘as if a dead relative just walked into the room’. The similes usually relate to feeling that something unnatural had happened, something so amazing that it had to be computer generated.
Attempts to use other senses – People sometimes start to use other ways of communicating, or using other senses in an attempt to convey their words. Hand gestures increase without words coming out. Some use an imagined sound to describe the experience – ‘like it all just popped into place’, the darkness ‘came roaring towards us’. It was like ‘it made a noise’ and was alive.
It’s fantastic that as adults we can experience such wonder in the world that makes us speechless. The Japanese refer to this as Yugen – where we experience the full wonder of the Universe on a phenomenological level. It is these experiences that make us feel the most alive.