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Chasing Eclipses Around the World is a Way of Living: A Small Group of People Cannot Get Enough of it

Chasing eclipses is a way of living. Eclipse chasers travel around the world for enjoying watching eclipses.

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Solar Eclipse
FILE - This March 9, 2016 file photo shows a total solar eclipse in Belitung, Indonesia. Wyoming state tourism officials say the solar eclipse passing over the entire length of Wyoming in August could give the state economy a much needed boost. (AP Photo, File) VOA
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Washington D.C. [USA], August 21, 2017: While Monday’s total solar eclipse in the U.S. will be a once-in-a-lifetime sky show for millions, there’s a small group of people who have experienced it all before and they can’t get enough of it.

Glenn Schneider has seen 33. Fred Espenak has watched 28. Donald Liebenberg has logged 26. For newbie Kate Russo, it’s 10 and counting.

These veteran eclipse chasers spend lots of money and craft intricate plans all to experience another mid-day darkening of the sky. Many work in science and related fields and they’ll travel around the world, even to Antarctica, to see one more.

A minibus parked in a designated eclipse viewing area is seen in a campground near Guernsey, Wyoming, Aug. 20, 2017.VOA

“I do this not so much as an avocation, but as an addiction,” said Schneider, a University of Arizona astronomy professor.

Russo, a psychologist in Ireland who wrote a book about people’s eclipse experiences, said some people find the experience life-changing. That happened to her.

“Eclipse chasing isn’t just a hobby or interest,” Russo wrote in an email from Wyoming, where she traveled to see Monday’s eclipse. “Eclipse chasing is a way of life. It becomes who you are.”

This photo provided by the Oregon State Police shows the crowd at the Big Summit Eclipse 2017 event near Prineville, Ore., Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. The full solar eclipse will happen Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. (Oregon State Police via AP) VOA

Monday’s eclipse will cut a 70-mile-wide (112-kilometer) path of totality across the country, when the moon moves between Earth and the sun, blocking it for as much as 2 1/2 minutes. It’s the first coast-to-coast full eclipse since 1918. Many of the big eclipse chasers are planning to be in Oregon or Wyoming because there’s a better chance of clear weather there in August. They’ll be ready to drive hundreds of miles if need be to find good weather.

Total solar eclipses happen on average every 18 months or so, but they usually aren’t near easy-to-drive highways. Norma Liebenberg has been to a dozen, mostly joining her avid eclipse watcher husband, Donald, in remote places like Libya, Zambia and Western China.

“It’s sort of mind-boggling that there are 1,000 people out in these isolated places to see it,” she said. She even forgave her husband when he missed their first anniversary to go to a clouded-out eclipse in the South Pacific.

There’s a compulsiveness to eclipse chasers, especially photographers, said Dr. Gordon Telepun, an Alabama plastic surgeon who has seen only three.

“It’s very anxiety-producing, it’s very challenging,” said Telepun, who even developed a talking phone app that times an eclipse so photographers don’t miss anything. “It’s an adrenaline rush man, I’m telling you.”

FILE – Retired NASA astrophysicist, author, photographer and eclipse expert Fred Espenak known as “Mr. Eclipse” speaks during a press conference in Torshavn, the capital city of the Faeroe Islands, March 19, 2015. VOA

Telepun said his hero is “Mr. Eclipse” Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist, who explains why chasers are the way they are.

“It’s the closest any of us will come to being an astronaut and being in space,” Espenak said.

Eclipse chasers say their first always hooks them.

Schneider, who got a telescope at age 5, planned out his first eclipse precisely. He was 14 in 1970 and he traveled from New York City to East Carolina University’s stadium. He had choreographed how he was going to spend the 2 minutes 53 seconds of darkness. Then came the moment.

“I was frozen in place,” he recalled. “I had binoculars around my neck for two and a half minutes and I never picked them up.”

When it was over “I was shaking. I was crying. I was overwhelmed,” he said. “It was at that instant when I said ‘Yeah, this is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life’.”

Now Schneider takes his grown daughter with him to eclipses. And he invented what he calls the “lug-o-scope,” a telescope that folds into its own luggage to make his eclipse chasing easier.

“Flexibility is probably No. 1,” Schneider said. “Keeping your options and open and be ready to take that option if that’s what’s needed.”

A veteran of 28 eclipses, Espenak often leads groups of 50 some people to view eclipses, lecturing both about the beauty and the science. Except when the hour grows close and the skies get dark, he goes silent.

“On eclipse day he’s all business. He does not want to be diverted from his checklist of everything he wants to do,” explains University of Tennessee’s Mark Littmann, co-author with Espenak of the book “Totality.” “It’s like you’re kind of trying to chat with a pilot coming in for an emergency landing. It isn’t that he’s just not friendly, it’s just not the right time anymore.”

Donald Liebenberg has seen and blogged about his 26 eclipses for Clemson University, where he does research. He holds the record for most time in totality because the retired federal scientist used to view them by airplane whenever possible. In 1973, he convinced the French to let him use the supersonic Concorde for eclipse viewing and he flew at twice the speed of sound. He got 74 minutes of eclipse time in that one flight.

After spending more than 60 years flying around the world, this time the Liebenbergs are only going as far as their driveway.

This eclipse is coming directly to them in South Carolina.

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A Dozen New Moons Found Orbiting Jupiter

Twelve new moons orbiting Jupiter have been found -- 11 'normal' outer moons, and one that they're calling an 'oddball.'

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Jupiter
Astronomers Discovers 12 New Moons Orbiting Around Jupiter. (VOA)

Astronomers are still finding moons at Jupiter, 400 years after Galileo used his spyglass to spot the first ones.

The latest discovery of a dozen small moons brings the total to 79, the most of any planet in our solar system.

Scientists were looking for objects on the fringes of the solar system last year when they pointed their telescopes close to Jupiter’s backyard, according to Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington. They saw a new group of objects moving around the giant gas planet but didn’t know whether they were moons or asteroids passing near the planet.

“There was no eureka moment,” said Sheppard, who led the team of astronomers. “It took a year to figure out what these objects were.”

They all turned out to be moons of Jupiter. The confirmation of 10 was announced Tuesday. Two were confirmed earlier.

The moons had not been spotted before because they are tiny. They are about one to two kilometers across, said astronomer Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center.

And he thinks Jupiter might have even more moons just as small waiting to be found.

“We just haven’t observed them enough,” said Williams, who helped confirm the moons’ orbits.

Jupiter
12 New Moons Discovered Orbiting Jupiter. Pixabay

The team is calling one of the new moons an “oddball” because of its unusual orbit. Sheppard’s girlfriend came up with a name for it: Valetudo, the great-granddaughter of the Roman god Jupiter.

Valetudo is in Jupiter’s distant, outer swarm of moons that circles in the opposite direction of the planet’s rotation. Yet it’s orbiting in the same direction as the planet, against the swarm’s traffic.

“This moon is going down the highway the wrong way,” Sheppard said.

Scientists believe moons like Valetudo and its siblings appeared soon after Jupiter formed. The planet must have acted like a vacuum, sucking up all the material that was around it. Some of that debris was captured as moons.

“What astonishes me about these moons is that they’re the remnants of what the planet formed from,” he said.

Telescopes in Chile, Hawaii and Arizona were used for the latest discovery and confirmation.

Also Read-NASA Probes Unveils Stormy Environment of Jupiter’s moon

Galileo detected Jupiter’s four largest moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, in 1610. The latest count of 79 known moons includes eight that have not been seen for several years. Saturn is next with 61, followed by Uranus with 27 and Neptune with 14. Mars has two, Earth has one and Mercury and Venus have none. (VOA)