David Baron has been chasing eclipses for almost 20 years. His first total solar eclipse — when the Moon fully blocks the Sun from sight, turning day into night — was in 1998, in Aruba. The experience convinced him to travel the world to catch more eclipses. “I really didn’t know what a big deal it would be,” says Baron, a science writer. “It was so moving, almost psychedelic. I just decided I wanted to experience it again.”
Since 1998, Baron has traveled to Europe, Australia, and Indonesia to witness five total solar eclipses. And on August 21st of this year, he’ll climb nearly 11,000 feet to the top of Rendezvous Peak in the Teton Mountains in Wyoming, to witness the first total solar eclipse crossing the US from coast to coast since 1918. He’s not alone: eclipse chasers all over the world travel wherever they can to get a fleeting glimpse of the celestial phenomenon. This month’s eclipse is expected to draw millions of people.
The experience can be addictive, Baron says. A total solar eclipse lasts only a few minutes — just a couple minutes on August 21st, depending where you are — but those few minutes can give you a “feeling of incredible connection to the universe,” he says. During a total solar eclipse, the day turns into night, and all of a sudden you can see the planets appear in the sky. You can also see the Sun’s wispy outer atmosphere, called the corona, the jets of light and rays shot into the surrounding universe. “It’s just the most breathtakingly beautiful, I daresay, glorious sight in the heavens,” Baron says.
Eclipse chasers have been around for a long time, and we have good records of who attempted to catch more recent eclipses. In 1860, a group of scientists traveled by train, stagecoach, wagon, steamboat, and canoe for 47 days to witness a total solar eclipse in today’s central Manitoba, Canada. (Unfortunately, clouds covered the entire eclipse.) In 1870, Frenchman Jules Janssen escaped Paris by balloon during a Prussian siege to reach Algeria and witness a total solar eclipse there.