Adventures of an eclipse chaser
Joe Rao

Adventures of an eclipse chaser

‘It is an experience every fiber of you gets involved in,” said Joe Rao of the phenomena of the total eclipse; it has “no rival for sheer drama and excitement.”

Rao has traveled “by land, sea, and air to hunt the total solar eclipse” for more than fifty years, he told attendees at a Zoom lecture hosted by the NorthEast-Millerton Library on Thursday, March 28; the result is that he has witnessed thirteen total eclipses in his life. Rao was chief meteorologist at News 12 in Westchester, New York, for 21 years and writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine and the Farmer’s Almanac and Space.com. He is also an instructor and guest lecturer at Hayden Planetarium in New York.

Rao’s lifelong fascination with the eclipse was inspired by his grandfather, who explained the phenomenon to him when Rao was just 7 years old, using his fist (the sun) and salt shaker (the moon) and pepper grinder (the earth) to show how the moon moves to block the sun. This was in preparation for the 90% partial eclipse of July of 1963; Rao remembers witnessing the crescent image of the sun.

In July of 1972, Joe’s grandfather drove Joe, his grandmother and other family members to a town in Canada called Cap-Chat on the Gaspe Peninsula, to see a total eclipse. Joe was able to see the corona around the moon’s shadow at that eclipse.

He said at that eclipse, “I’ve got to see another one of these.” He says he was “addicted” at that point.

There was a tour in 1977 that he and friend and fellow eclipse fanatic, Glenn Snyder organized to fund their own way to Columbia, South America. Their rickety old tour bus got stuck in mud. All twenty passengers pushed and freed the bus. They backtracked back to the original route and made it in time to see the total eclipse.

In 1979, he and Glenn organized another tour, this time to Lewistown, Montana, and took eighty people. The morning of the eclipse, Joe, now a meteorologist, got word that cloud cover was coming to Lewistown. They all got on the bus, drove an hour to the east, and found a field, free of cloud cover. From there they could view the eclipse.

The year 1990 brought another eclipse. Rao got the idea of viewing it from an airplane. He contacted American Trans Air and asked them if flight 402 from Honolulu to San Francisco could be delayed forty-one minutes in order to intersect with the eclipse. They agreed. A further complication occurred when another plane got in front of them for takeoff. The delay would cost them the view of the eclipse, so the captain lowered the plane to another altitude and sped up. They got to view the eclipse.

In 1991, Rao was hired by a cruise ship to pick the best spot to view the eclipse for an eclipse cruise. The problem this time was that a volcano which had erupted in the Philippines was causing a haze of volcanic ash. They were able to find a hole in the haze and cloud cover forty nautical miles away and the two cruise ships, filled with eclipse seekers, got to it in time.

Joe Rao was hired for another cruise in 1998 to view the eclipse near the island of Monserrat.

An eclipse near the North Pole in 2008 presented the problem of how to get to see it, until his friend Glenn Snyder was hired by the German airline, AirEvents/Deutsche Polarflug. This time it was Snyder who petitioned the airline to intersect the eclipse and got his friend Rao onboard. Rao wrote about the flight for Natural History magazine; “Shades of Glory” later won a prize from the American Astronomical Society.

In 2016, Joe convinced Alaska Airlines to delay a flight for twenty-five minutes to view the eclipse taking place that year seven hundred miles north of Honolulu.

In 2021, he and his wife, Renata journeyed to Antarctica to see the eclipse.

This time, Rao said he might go to Syracuse or Plattsburg for the eclipse of next Monday, April 8. He said this one is “knocking at our back door.” He added, “Get in your car and travel up route I-87 north to Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Saratoga Springs or Montreal.” He said it should be on “everyone’s bucket list.”

Those who do travel north should be aware there could be heavy traffic and delays.

Rao said for those who stay in this area on April 8, there will not be a total eclipse but about a 91 percent eclipse. The corona around the sun will not be visible. The eclipse will begin around 2:12 in Millerton, with the “maximum effect” around 3:26 and it will be over by 4:37 in the afternoon. He said there will be a “counterfeit twilight and the sky will turn a dusky shade of blue.”

To view the eclipse safely eclipse glasses are needed. Regular sunglasses are not safe and will not keep out ultraviolet and infrared light. The glasses should have a tag with an ISO number and be made of polymer or mylar.

Rhiannon Leo-Jameson, director of the North-East Millerton Library, said area residents could stop in the library for a pair of eclipse glasses.

Latest News

P&Z approves Victorian bed and breakfast

KENT — Following a public hearing and discussion, the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) at its meeting Thursday, March 14, unanimously approved a special permit application from 81 Victorian Kent for a change of use from boarding house to bed and breakfast.

Wesley Wyrick, P&Z chairman, indicated that the application applied only to the front building, the gingerbread Victorian dating to the 1880s, not to the apartment building in the rear.

Keep ReadingShow less
Stay Informed

Each week The Lakeville Journal and The Millerton News publish a series of newsletters designed to help you stay informed, entertained and engaged with your community.

To subscribe, simply click the button below and select the newsletters you would like to receive. And then, keep an eye on your inbox.

Keep ReadingShow less
Graceful stitching at the altar

An assortment of kneelers and pillows in needlepoint’ there are some done in crewel as well. Note the symbols used throughout the items.

Judith O'Hara Balfe

So much of what we know about religion comes from the written word, but much can be found in paintings, sculptures — and needlework.

Famous tapestries hang in castles and museums around the world, but some of the most beautiful pieces can be found on altars, on kneelers, and in the vestments and hangings found in great cathedrals and in some small country churches.

Keep ReadingShow less
Spanish sonatas and serenades for Easter

José Manuel Gil de Gálvez, left, took a bow with members of the Málaga Chamber Orchestra at The Hotchkiss School Music Center.

Alexander Wilburn

Adding some international vigor to Easter Weekend — or Semana Santa, “The Holy Week,” as it’s known in Spain — The Hotchkiss School held a performance by the Spanish string ensemble the Málaga Chamber Orchestra in the Esther Eastman Music Center on Saturday evening, March 30. Featuring six violins, two violas, two cellos, and a double bass, the chamber music orchestra, which has performed across Europe and the U.S., is led by violinist and Grammy-nominated music producer José Manuel Gil de Gálvez. He has shared the stage with renowned musicians like classical and flamenco guitarist Pepe Romero and South Korean classical cellist Hee-Young Lim and performed at locations like The Berlin Philharmonie, The Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, and The Seoul Arts Center.

With a flamboyant head of long ringlet curls and a mustache/goatee combination reminiscent of Colin Firth’s Elizabethan lord in “Shakespeare in Love,” Gil de Gálvez is a theatrical violinist to take in live, infusing his playing with a passionate performance that heats up lively numbers like the opening Spanish serenade, “Impresiones de España” by 19th-century composer Joaquín Malats. Gil de Gálvez was in full command during his captivating violin solo, “Adiós a la Alhambra” by composer Jesús de Monasterio, who served as honorary violinist of the Capilla Real de Madrid. “Adiós” is an example of de Monasterio’s Alhambrism style, the 19th-century nationalist romantic movement, which, like the contemporary Málaga Chamber Orchestra, was keenly interested in the restoration of music from the Spanish popular heritage.

Keep ReadingShow less