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.

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