(Source: www.businessinsider.sg)

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An airplane flies in front of the crescent of a solar eclipse.
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Shutterstock

For the first time in nearly 100 years, the shadow of a total solar eclipse is going to sweep across the United States.

The umbra – the darkest shadow cast by the moon blocking the sun – will appear in the Pacific Ocean and slice through 12 US states on Monday, August 21.

Starting around 10 a.m. PDT, parts of western Oregon will go dark in a condition called totality as the umbra travels east. The elliptical shadow will make its way to Idaho Falls by 11:33 MDT, hit Kansas City at 1 p.m. CDT, and begin to pass over Charleston, South Carolina, by about 2:45 p.m. EDT.

Although some eclipse fans spend years preparing for the event, totality lasts less than three minutes – so all it takes is one stray cloud to obscure the magic moment.

That’s why some people pay thousands of dollars to fly in chartered jets and pursue the moon’s shadow. In addition to beating the odds of bad weather, such hardcore “eclipse chasers” can extend their length of time in the umbra, sometimes by several minutes.

I was lucky enough to ride an eclipse-chasing flight on August 1, 2008. Here’s what the experience was like.

Total solar eclipses aren’t rare — they happen about once every 18 months — but most locations on Earth only fall in one’s path every 370 years or so.

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An illustration of a total solar eclipse.
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NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

That’s because the umbra averages less than 100 miles wide near the equator — a fraction of a percent of Earth’s day-side surface area.

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A US map of the total solar eclipse’s shadow on August 21, 2017. The umbral shadow will be about 60-70 miles wide, depending on the time and location.
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NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

Source: TimeAndDate.com

However, some hardcore eclipse chasers spend thousands of dollars to chase the moon’s shadow from the skies.

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An airplane flies in front of the crescent of a solar eclipse.
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Shutterstock

In 2008, when I was a freelance journalist, a sightseeing company called Polarflug offered to fly me to Germany and chase the August 1 total solar eclipse. I said yes.

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Reuters

Before that moment, the closest I’d come to seeing an eclipse was an attempt to watch an annular eclipse (where the moon doesn’t fully block the sun) out the windows of my grade school.

My teachers wouldn’t let me outside for fear I’d damage my eyes, but there are plenty of ways to watch any eclipse without staring at one, including the use of pinhole cameras.

Sources: NASA-JPL, A.T. Sinclair/NASA

After a flight across the Atlantic Ocean, I landed in Düsseldorf, Germany, where more than 140 eclipse chasers had also gathered. We stayed overnight, woke up at 3 a.m. on the morning of the eclipse, and went to the airport.

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Dave Mosher

Our flight would last 12 hours. After chasing the umbra, we’d turn north for a quick pass over the North Pole. Our destination sign at Düsseldorf Airport prompted a lot of quizzical looks from passers-by.

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Dave Mosher

Though we’d miss the maximum eclipse point, where totality lasts the longest, our Airbus A330 could travel at about 560 mph. This would help us chase the moon’s east-moving umbral shadow and give an extra 30 seconds or so in darkness.

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Google Earth; Business Insider

Glenn Schneider, a University of Arizona astronomer (and self-professed eclipse obsessive), helped organize the charter flight, starting two years in advance.

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Dave Mosher

Kelly Beatty, an editor for Sky & Telescope, also helped plan the trip. “A total solar eclipse is one of nature’s most awesome events,” Beatty told me. “Anyone who’s seen one knows that.”

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Dave Mosher

Seeing totality from a plane, Beatty said, is an altogether different experience. “The sky is that much clearer and that much blacker. And that makes the corona that much brighter and more electric. It’s really an electric-looking phenomenon.”

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The sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, during a total solar eclipse.
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M. Druckmüller/NASA

The trip wasn’t cheap. An American passenger told me that some customers paid about $10,000 for a window seat.

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Dave Mosher

“It’s a lot of money. I see it being a barrier for people,” the passenger told me, adding that the trip was “the most expensive of his life.”

Clint Warner, a nutritionist I met wearing what he called a “solar eclipse suit,” said this was his 12th total eclipse. “It’s the most amazing natural phenomenon I’ve ever experienced. It’s always intoxicating,” he said.

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Children play as a Polarflug flight awaits departure in August 2008.
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Dave Mosher

Passenger and lawyer Sharon Gray offered some advice for first-time eclipse watchers: “Just watch it. Don’t worry about anybody else or the camera,” she said. “Just succumb to the experience.”

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Dave Mosher

Our chartered jet took off around 5:45 a.m., and we began flying north toward the Arctic. The umbra wouldn’t pass overhead for another four hours, so we passed the time by sleeping or gazing at a seemingly endless plane of jagged sea ice.

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Dave Mosher

The plane also flew over the rugged terrain of Svalbard, a mountainous archipelago, and its glaciers.

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Dave Mosher

Soon, the moon began to slip in front of the sun — a moment called “first contact.” Then the skies slowly gradually began to darken.

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Dave Mosher

We were in the lighter outer shadow of the moon, called the penumbra.

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A diagram that shows the umbral and penumbral lunar shadows.
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Sagredo/Wikipedia (public domain)

The pilot ordered everyone to their seats, but passengers scrambled to the starboard windows. Schneider excitedly narrated every stage of the eclipse over the intercom.

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Passengers crane to see Arctic ice during a flight to watch the total solar eclipse of August 1, 2008.
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Dave Mosher

My heart raced as the moon reached “second contact” — the start of totality, when the umbra would pass over our jet. For a moment, a tiny sliver of light was all that remained of the sun.

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Dave Mosher

Then a brilliant burst of light appeared, a stage called the “diamond ring.” That’s the point when you can first see the corona, or outer atmosphere of the sun. “Totality is starting!” Schneider yelled.

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The “diamond ring” phase of a total solar eclipse.
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Dave Mosher

The next few minutes were a blur, but I clearly saw a solar prominence — a giant wisp of plasma arcing off the sun’s surface — and the wispy corona.

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Dave Mosher

When I looked away from the eclipse, I was shocked by the darkness of the umbral shadow on the clouds, ice, and ocean. Its edge looked like a cross between a sunrise and a sunset. I could also see stars and planets in the sky.

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Dave Mosher

Totality ended after three minutes with the appearance of a second “diamond ring” on the opposite side of the moon. The eclipse phases then moved in reverse as the umbra sped eastward ahead of our jet.

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Dave Mosher

After totality, two passengers — Joel Moskowitz and Craig Small — paraded a custom eclipse flag around the cabin. The two were the most devout eclipse chasers I’d ever met. “I have no intention of ever missing an eclipse for the rest of my life. I don’t care where it is, even in the remotest area of the Earth,” Small told me. “I have to be there, I will be there.”

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Joel Moskowitz (left) and Craig Small (right).
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Dave Mosher

“When you see one, you want to see more. You get hooked,” Moskowitz added. “Seeing the corona during totality is better than sex.”

The trip wasn’t over, though: The airplane banked hard and turned toward the North Pole. At the time, it looked like this:

The only indication that we had arrived at the Pole was an announcement over the intercom.

Back on the tarmac in Düsseldorf, the group snapped a celebratory photo, and then everyone began making their way home.

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Dave Mosher

That evening I watched the sun set on the Rhine River and reflected on my experience. More than anything, I felt humbled.

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Dave Mosher

There’s nothing like an epic astronomical alignment to make you feel like you’re riding a spaceship through an infinite void.

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A view of Africa taken by Apollo 11 astronauts on July 20, 1969.
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NASA/Flickr

More Info: www.businessinsider.sg

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