Did anyone notice anything strange in the sky this past Monday? Or, failing that, did you notice anyone looking at the sky wearing (hopefully) something that looked uncannily like 3D glasses?
Of course I kid. Over a large swath of the United States this week, a solar eclipse was visible in the sky. Millions of people watched the sun get partially blotted out, while a smaller few got to experience the real deal, a total blocking of the sun by the moon.
I was one of those people. Situated in rural Idaho (far away from the throngs who crowded into Oregon, and possibly near where Neil DeGrasse Tyson saw the eclipse) I was fortunate to stand in a field of only a few hundred people, enough to feel like part of something, but not too much like Woodstock.
I had never seen a total eclipse before. I had seen pictures, of course, and many people I knew had seen a partial eclipse, but as the author Annie Dillard famously said:
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
(She also, less famously but more poignantly, likened it to the difference between “flying in an airplane” to “falling out of one“. “Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it.“)
Given how close this was to my home, there was no way I was going to miss it.
I won’t even attempt to describe the moments, the odd sense of shaky panic and foreboding that preceded it, the light changing and then disappearing, the ecstasy of totality, grown adults whooping and hollering all around, the evanescence of it all. I would never be able to do it justice.
Instead, I recommend you read this essay by Annie Dillard. It’s imperfect, as of course it must be, but it will give you a flavor.
But it left me with one singular and powerful feeling: When can I see that again?
And with that, I became an eclipse chaser. Hello.
Table of Contents
Eclipses are predictable, but relatively rare. The moon, Earth, and Sun’s orbits and varying distances from each other mean that even when the (ahem) planets are aligned, there may not be a total eclipse. Everything needs to be just right.
And I mean just right. As the author, health guru, and Santa Claus-lookalike Andrew Weil wrote in “The Marriage of the Sun and Moon”:
“Consider this: By an extraordinary coincidence, the sun and moon appear to us to be the same size in the sky. The sun’s vast distance exactly compensates for its much greater diameter, so that it appears no bigger than the moon. If this relationship did not hold, total eclipses of the sun would not occur.”
Consequently, a total solar eclipse only happens somewhere roughly between every six months and two years. And this is only somewhere (tiny) on Earth. So stand in one place, waiting for an eclipse, and you’re going to be waiting for a long time.
But I’m not waiting.
The day I returned home, I sought a list of the next total solar eclipses. There are lots of these lists, but this is the best one I’ve found.
And I found that the next one is in just under two years, on July 2, 2019.
In South America. Chile and Argentina, specifically.
I was all set to start looking at flights, but I quickly learned that I should probably cool my jets on that one. Recall that July is winter in the southern hemisphere. As inclement weather can ruin an eclipse viewing, there didn’t seem much point in pursuing that one.
So I looked at the next one, which was 18 months later, on December 14, 2020. The height of summer.
Where was this? Also in Chile and Argentina.
I’ve never been to either Chile or Argentina. I’ve never even been to South America. I know next to nothing about that giant landmass that sits magnetic south of me.
Clearly, this seems like a good candidate for my one new country of the year.
One new country
As I’ve mentioned in the past, my goal is to visit one new country a year. This gamification of travel allows me to keep pushing myself, to keep thinking about the future, to keep trying new things. It’s much more within reach than, say, visiting every country in the world.
With so many places worth seeing, it can be hard to know what country to visit. But for me, the fact that two eclipses are happening in the same area leads me to conclude that either Chile or Argentina will likely be my one new country for 2020.
Or maybe 2019. Just on the chance that I can’t help myself. Three years is such a long time to wait.
But enough about me. Have you taken the one new country a year challenge? Where have you been recently?