on 16 June 2015
My name is Mike. And I am an eclipse chaser.
I am echoing the opening words of this entertaining and informative book by Dr Kate Russo, a clinical psychologist from Belfast University, who in her spare time travels round the world observing eclipse of the Sun. Why – as many non-addicts would ask, bewildered – would anyone want to spend their holidays repeating this experience over and over again, at considerable expense? Dr Russo uses her research expertise, examining the psychology of personal experience, to understand her own desire to travel the world in search of the elusive experience of totality.
Solar eclipses are arguably the single most spectacular natural phenomenon. When the Moon completely covers the disk of the Sun we see sights that are unobservable in any other circumstances – solar prominences erupting from the solar disk and the beautiful pearly-white corona. The seconds leading up to the start of totality are full of disorienting phenomena; sudden drops in illumination and temperature, bizarre shadows and shadow bands, the breaking up of the solar crescent into Bailey’s beads. The end of totality is marked by the stunningly spectacular diamond ring, as sunlight breaks through the deepest valley on the Moon’s surface.
So many words, so much jargon, so little sense of how overwhelming the experience actually is. Some people break into cheers, some into tears; for some the experience is spiritual, for others life changing or life affirming. Dr Russo attempts to analyse the experience by interviewing people who have seen one or more total eclipses. There is an analysis of what eclipse chasers have in common - we tend to be adventurous, we seek out experience over material possessions, we tend to be enthusiastic about many other interests and hobbies outside astronomy.
Dr Russo moves on to present a series of in-depth interviews with particularly interesting eclipse chasers. There is one household name – Sir Patrick Moore, now sadly no longer with us, who is as usual entertaining but somehow seems unable to put his finger on just why we find eclipses so addictive. There are several other well-known amateur astronomers. But I found more interesting those who are more interested in experiencing the moment than appreciating the science.
Dr Russo’s thesis is that during total eclipses we may enter the “shadow land”, a heightened state of consciousness where we seem more attuned to our surroundings, more at one with the universe, more conscious of our place in the cosmos. I’m not sure I completely agree with this – in my own case I am more over-excited than spiritually-enhanced. But I certainly feel that totality gives me a feel for the immensity of the solar system – when else can you stand at the edge of the lunar umbra and actually see the Moon’s shadow shooting off into the distance?
If you’re an eclipse junkie, you’ll love this book.
If you’ve not yet seen a total eclipse (and partial eclipses don’t count – really, they don’t even come close) read the book! You’ll get some sort of idea as to why we are so enthusiastic. But above all, go … see … a … total … eclipse.
on 27 September 2012
If you are into eclipses this is a must read! The author's introduction is very personal and moving, and this inertia moves well into the content. I like the way Kate keeps personal contact with the reader all the way through. Obvious she has an emotional interest in the subject while applying scientific method to the psychology of eclispe chasing, a fine act to balance. Minor criticism - there could have been more photos - the ones printed are superb in quality so this was an opportunity lost I think. Also the cover looks a bit green? Was this intentional? I'd have gone for black, wondering if some of the printers ink ran out :-))
on 30 October 2012
I've never witnessed a total eclipse-partial only-but I've guested at a space shuttle launch and had 10 zero-gravity sessions above Star City,Russia,and those could be very addictive,so I know something about the ''syndrome''.Wish more photos were in it,if you read this,Kate,try zero-g-a fellow participant said if the experience could be bottled,the drug dealers would be out of business!