Meet the Eclipse Chasers who travel thousands of kilometers for the astronomical event

aFor ancient civilizations who considered solar eclipses a bad omen, the sight of this cosmic phenomenon would have been cause for despair. But for many enthusiasts traveling thousands of miles to see the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, the opposite is true.

“I’m not religious at all. But [the eclipse is] almost as close to a religious moment as I think you can get,” said Sarah Marwick, a 51-year-old doctor from Britain. “You feel huge and small at the same time.”

Marwick – who has seen six eclipses in the past 25 years in the Arctic Circle, China, France, Libya, the US and Zimbabwe – is an eclipse chaser or umbraphile. The neologism is not found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, but the word, meaning shadow lover, is used to describe the people who gather around the world seeking the chance to see the moon eclipse the sun. According to NASA, eclipses occur four to seven times a year. But solar eclipses are a much rarer phenomenon to see than lunar eclipses because they are only visible from a small part of the Earth each time they occur.

“Whether it’s 10 seconds or several minutes, it doesn’t matter. It is always too short for you,” says Tunç Tezel, a 46-year-old civil engineer from Turkey who has seen 13 solar eclipses and three lunar eclipses since 1999. He will travel more than 9,000 kilometers from Istanbul to Houston in April. “The light comes back and then you start thinking, ‘When’s the next one? Where’s next? I think I need to see another one. ”

For many, the obsession with eclipses began in childhood. “Growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, one of the big things I remember was the two big comets we had,” says 35-year-old Aditya Madhavan, who has been chasing eclipses since he saw the “great comets” saw. American solar eclipse” in 2017. Others praise science teachers for inspiring their love of space. But for most, the eclipse bug bit shortly after seeing their first one.

read more: How astrologers are preparing for the 2024 solar eclipse

It’s hard to say how many people identify as an umbraphile. On Facebook, a public group tracking the solar eclipse has nearly 21,000 members — an increase of about 13% since March. Not all are enthusiastic — some join to promote their product or offer accommodations to watch the eclipse — but filmmaker Nelson Quan, a member, says he’s noticed an explosion of interest after the 2017 solar eclipse. “Because these eclipses happen on these narrow paths and in certain places around the world, you kind of meet the same people,” says Quan, who directed a documentary about chasing eclipses called Chasing shadows.

For example, in 2023, around 20,000 people traveled to Exmouth, Australia for the solar eclipse. That city had 2,800 inhabitants. “Take a place like Australia. Do you think: ‘Australia is a big country?’ Well, it is. But if the eclipse in Exmouth just hits the tip of it, it will become a very small country,” said Mandie Adams, a 59-year-old landlord who works in the property industry.

Quan says the first online umbraphile community he remembers was a group on Yahoo called “the eclipse mailing list,” which included leaders from the previous generation of eclipse chasers such as astrophysicist Fred Espenak, also known as “Mr. Eclipse;” cartographer Michael Zeiler, creator of; and Xavier Jubier, the mastermind behind an interactive Google Maps site that describes the timing and phases of a solar eclipse.

Now the community has grown, amateurs and newly identified eclipse chasers are using online platforms to share accommodation plans, ask for tips and tell stories of past trips abroad. Of the 10 eclipse hunters TIME spoke to for this story, two traveled alone in the US for the 2017 eclipse and for this year’s astronomical event, six are traveling from other countries to see the April 8 eclipse in the US, and many already had plans to see the next total solar eclipse in 2026, with the most popular destination being Spain. “We are trying to do everything we can to see these eclipses as long as we can,” said Tezel, moderator of the Facebook group. “Maybe we’re a little more dedicated or a little crazy. You decide.”

The main barrier to becoming an eclipse chaser may be cost. Atlanta-based Madhavan paid $14,000 to travel by ship to Antarctica for a 2021 eclipse — and couldn’t see it because of cloud cover. The eclipse tourism industry is gaining momentum. This year, Delta Air Lines is launching flights that will allow eclipse hunters to view the event from the air, and a $1.5 billion economic boom is expected to impact states in the 115-mile-wide path of totality.

read more: Why these passengers fly up to 30 hours to see four minutes of the solar eclipse

Olivier Steiger, 65, says he plans his eclipse trips strategically to cut costs. To get the most bang for his buck, Steiger plans to spot other natural phenomena on this trip: he’ll spend a few nights tracking the Northern Lights before heading to the U.S. for the solar eclipse, and hopefully do some storm chasing and see a tornado . Texel next. Steiger says it’s cheaper to travel within Europe, and he can usually find deals depending on where he wants to go. For this trip, he drives from Switzerland to Milan to catch a cheaper flight to Iceland, before flying to Denver and then driving south.

Marwick, a mother of two, says the cost of traveling with her family determines her destination, accommodation and the length of time away from work. “If you have a family, there’s a difference between a flight to Toronto that costs $400, or a flight to Texas that costs, you know, $3,000, and a flight to Texas that takes much longer,” she says.

read more: Helpful tips for planning your solar eclipse trip

By being frugal, Adams, based in England, was able to spend the four weeks leading up to the eclipse traveling through Chicago, Nashville, Austin and Fort Worth. “I don’t go for luxury at home. I don’t go out and buy handbags and expensive clothes,” she says. “I want my money to go toward experiences like the solar eclipse.”

For many umbraphiles, traveling for a solar eclipse will be their only extended vacation of the year. “It’s kind of an excuse for us to get out of the country and go to places we might not have gone before,” says Madhavan. Tunzel, who has a copy of the Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, with maps of eclipse paths through 2035, jokingly refers to his catalog as his vacation planner.

This year, Madhavan will travel to Torreon, Mexico for the first time, but has also gone to countries like Australia in 2023 for an eclipse that lasted only about a minute. “We traveled halfway around the world for that [about] 56 seconds in total, which makes it sound really crazy,” he says, “but the sun itself and the phenomena we saw around this eclipse were just beautiful.”

That moment is never guaranteed, but the anticipation is worth it. “It’s like a calling,” says Tezel. “We drop everything, meet … that eclipse happens, and then we go back to what we do in our normal lives.” And then the cycle starts again.

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