Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017

Eclipse-chaser coming from Australia

Tens if not hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flock to eastern Idaho for the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21.

Few will travel farther than Terry Cuttle of Queensland, Australia.

Australia, about 8,000 miles away from eastern Idaho, is nearly on the opposite side of the planet.

This eclipse won’t be the most difficult Cuttle has chased, however. The retired engineer has viewed eclipses in the Arctic, Antarctic and many places in between, including Egyptian deserts and tropical jungles in Indonesia.

Comparably, eastern Idaho offers accessible airports and robust highway networks Cuttle is eager to use.

Though he’s already seen 15 total solar eclipses, Cuttle is ready for another.

“I have always been interested in the natural world,” Cuttle said in an email interview. “And I have always been interested in astronomy and the universe around us and the spectacular sights and experience it can offer.

“As soon as I became aware of total solar eclipses I wanted to see one. My first was in Australia in 1976, and after that experience I was hooked and keen to see more.”

Worldwide interest

In planning to visit eastern Idaho, Cuttle is not alone among overseas umbraphiles — “who love eclipses and often travel to see them.”

Though the Idaho Falls Astronomical Society usually receives local requests for event demonstrations and lectures, President Wescott Flaherty has received dozens of emails of a different sort since November.

People around the world have been requesting eclipse information: where to lodge, where to view, what events will take place in the area.

“It’s been Canada, different European countries, one from Brazil,” Flaherty said. “At first I started down the road of answering them, but it got to be so many and so time consuming that I couldn’t even respond to them any more.”

Serious eclipse-chasers prepare early and thoroughly. Cuttle typically spends two years drawing up plans for each eclipse he views. He spends six months alone preparing to photograph the eclipse.

“I enjoy the planning, checking weather prospects, working out best places to go, working out the exact timing. And then the satisfaction of being exactly in the right place at the right time under clear skies to successfully observe and photograph the eclipse,” Cuttle said. “The travel opportunities are endless, going to places where you may not normally go and figuring out how to do it cost-effectively.”

In 2012, Cuttle was part of a task force set up to coordinate government, local agencies and emergency and tourism services for a total solar eclipse over Queensland.

The team had to estimate how many people were going to attend the eclipse, and figure out how to provide services to those people despite infrastructure limitations.

About 80,000 travelled to Queensland for the event, including amateur astronomers, photographers and scientists, who use total solar eclipses to research the sun’s corona, which is only visible during the events.

“Eclipse-chasers are a diverse community,” Cuttle said. “Many are simply people who have experienced one eclipse and so enjoyed and are enthralled by it they want to see more.”

The Great American Eclipse, the first continental U.S. eclipse since 1918, figures to be much different from the one Australians saw in 2012.

Cartographer and eclipse-chaser Michael Zeiler believes the upcoming eclipse could draw more travelers than any other in history, due in part to well-developed transportation infrastructure in the U.S.

The circumstances and geography of the 2012 eclipse were far more limiting than this summer’s event, Cuttle said.

“Apart from the east coast area of Queensland, all of the eclipse path of totality was over remote areas where there are only scattered indigenous communities and isolated cattle raising properties and there are only few residents and generally poor access,” he said. “That area had few visitors for the eclipse.”

Zeiler met Cuttle at several eclipses, and has been making eclipse-focused maps for eight years. This upcoming eclipse has been on his radar since 1991; he launched an informational website about it, greatamericaneclipse.com, three years ago.

Idaho as a destination

As the eclipse draws across the U.S., from Oregon to South Carolina, it will spend about two-and-a-half hours over Idaho.

Zeiler believes eastern Idaho — with favorable projected cloud conditions, mountainous scenery and the Interstate 15 corridor — will draw more of those visitors than any other viewing region.

Local public safety officials have been told to expect up to 500,000 people in eastern Idaho for the eclipse. Zeiler estimates about 280,000 people will travel here.

“It’s a difficult thing to measure, but you can expect quite a crowd (there),” he said. “Idaho will be a destination for many people coming from the Los Angeles area, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas. Much of the western U.S. is going to drive toward Idaho for that reason.”

Cuttle picked eastern Idaho to view the eclipse for the same reasons many did: weather, access and scenery.

“It’s a wide-open valley, which may afford a view of the approaching moon’s shadow just before the eclipse,” Cuttle said. “And the eclipse will occur in the southeast, in the vicinity of the distant and spectacular Tetons.”

Eastern Idaho also offers good east-west highway routes. If cloud coverage threatens to spoil the eclipse from a given spot, chasers will pack up and head east or west to find a better spot along the eclipse path.

Though spending thousands of dollars to travel across the world for an event that can be ruined by an errant cloud may seem bold, Cuttle isn’t concerned about weather. He said the reliability of forecasting systems and Idaho’s highway network make the trip practical.

Years of preparation

After a train to Brisbane, Australia, and flight to San Francisco, Cuttle will set up in Pocatello come late August. Though he has friends scattered across the eclipse’s path, including some in Idaho, he will not be part of a viewing group.

He identified during a 2015 scouting trip six potential viewing sites strewn across the valley. He’ll make a final site selection two days before the eclipse.

As years of preparation culminate in about two minutes of total eclipse, Cuttle will have two priorities.

The first is to watch over his photo equipment.

Cuttle will monitor several cameras equipped with telephoto and wide-angle lenses. The cameras, mostly run automatically through laptop software and external timers, will catch the eclipse in sequence through programs fixed before Cuttle set foot in the U.S.

Cuttle’s second priority: to enjoy the eclipse.

He will watch as the moon’s shadow approaches and the sun disappears. Light will drop as if night, and stars will appear in the dark blue sky while a rim of light peeks from behind the moon.

“But more than the sights it is an experience like no other. It is surreal, like a ‘This should not be happening,’ feeling,” Cuttle said. “Some describe it like a spiritual experience.”


Reporter Kevin Trevellyan can be reached at 542-6762.


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Source: Solar Eclipse 2017

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