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Solar eclipse 2021 on December 4: Meet the man behind the Facebook group that connects eclipse chasers

🔴As the world tunes in to watch the last solar eclipse of 2021, we catch up via email with the man working behind the scenes of Facebook's 'Solar Eclipse Chasers' group.

By: Science Desk |
Updated: December 4, 2021 2:56:27 pm
A photograph of the Dec 4 solar eclipse. (Twitter/NASA)

The Solar Eclipse Chasers group on Facebook has had a busy week. First, there were discussions about travel plans and the best spots to catch the December 4 solar eclipse. Then there were enthusiasts reminiscing and sharing photographs about their past eclipse-chasing experiences.

A couple of umbraphiles (people who love eclipses), who made it to Punta Arenas in Chile, took to the group to share exquisite photographs and offered to meet up with other enthusiasts in the area. Another group member shared photographs of the eclipse stamps issued by the Chilean postal company.

On the day of the eclipse, the online and on-location eclipse watchers convened together in the virtual space to debate the merits of NASA’s live feed vs that of Lindblad’s or share disappointing photographs of fog-covered Amundsen Bay in Antarctica (“Life of an eclipse chaser. Win some, lose some,” wrote a user in response).

When he started the group in 2010, UK-based Ian (who goes by his first name) envisioned it as a space where he can keep in touch with his travelling companions from Polynesia’s Easter Island. Over a decade later, the group has over 8,200 members and is a space for eclipse chasers to make plans and share information, experiences and photos. As the world tunes in to watch the last solar eclipse of 2021, we catch up via email with the man working behind the scenes.

How did you get interested in solar eclipses?

I saw my first total solar eclipse in the United Kingdom in 1999. However, the weather wasn’t kind that time. So on the summer solstice in 2001, I saw my second total eclipse in Madagascar. This time, the conditions were perfect and I was hooked. After this, I then decided that it was a nice way to travel because it means that you let the eclipse decide where you are going.

How did the idea to start a Facebook group come about?

I started the Facebook group to keep in contact with my travelling companions who I joined to view the Solar Eclipse on Easter Island in July 2010. We were a group of people who chased the eclipse to one of the most remote parts of the planet.

How has the group evolved over the years?

Through the years, people started joining and it naturally grew to be a global hub for interested people. A large number of people joined around the August 2017 solar eclipse. [The total solar eclipse was nicknamed the ‘Great American Eclipse’ because it was visible all along North America in a path spanning from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina].

Following that as well, there is a steady flow of posts and photos, and the group became too big for me to administer all by myself. So I nominated a handful of key members to help out and smoothen the admission process. Nowadays, you can find some of the most interesting eclipse conversations, trip planning and spectacular photography in this space.

Have you had member meetings in person?

For now, my interaction with the group is purely online. I enjoy the group experience, but I haven’t planned on meeting anyone from it in person. Maybe in the future I will.

What is your favourite eclipse-related experience?

The experience in Madagascar was important because it kicked off a new hobby and replaced my usual summer activity that year. I also fell in love with Madagascar. The 2010 eclipse was special too. Standing on a volcano on Easter Island and watching the shadow of the moon approach across the Pacific Ocean was a very special experience. I had wanted to visit Easter Island all my life, so it was a dream come true.

There is much that I love about eclipse watching. I love watching everyone get ready for the process, setting up complex cameras and anticipating the first contact. The wonderment of the eclipse can not be described and I hope that those who can’t catch one in person can enjoy the photos shared on the Facebook group.

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