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On Sunday, 'Umbraphiles' Will Watch Total Solar Eclipse From 39,000 Feet

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On Sunday, 'Umbraphiles' Will Watch Total Solar Eclipse From 39,000 Feet

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On Sunday, 'Umbraphiles' Will Watch Total Solar Eclipse From 39,000 Feet

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

(Soundbite of song "Moonshadow")

Mr. CAT STEVENS (Musician): (Singing) I'm being followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow.

BLOCK: The moon's shadow will cover the sun this Sunday, a total solar eclipse visible along a slim stretch of the South Pacific, and following that shadow, there will be eclipse chasers, some of them flying on a modified Airbus plane, pursuing the eclipse to stretch out the totality and lengthen their enjoyment of it.

Rick Brown is organizing the charter excursion. He's a commodities trader in New York when he's not chasing eclipses, and we've reached him by Skype on the island of Tahiti. Welcome to the program.

Mr. RICK BROWN (Commodities Trader): Thank you very much.

BLOCK: And Rick, you're promising what you're calling umbral immersion high up in the sky. Explain how it's going to work.

Mr. BROWN: We are going to be departing Papeete on Sunday morning, just before the eclipse begins. And the idea of this is to put the plane into the path of the shadow. We are going slower than the shadow is going, and the shadow is overtaking us but if we were simply standing on the ground, the shadow would be zipping by at quite a distance. We are able to slow that shadow by almost 500 miles an hour because we are in a jet plane.

BLOCK: Well, how high up are you going to be?

Mr. BROWN: We'll be at 39,000 feet when the shadow intercepts us, and it should be crystal clear, blue sky, no need to worry about cloud cover too much, which is every eclipse-chaser's nightmare.

BLOCK: And how many people have signed up?

Mr. BROWN: There'll be a total of 33 people on board.

BLOCK: And the price tag for this, for folks who want to join the charter, is what?

Mr. BROWN: Well, the way it works is you had an opportunity to either have your own window or to share a window with a partner that you might have brought. If you're sharing a window, the seats would have been $6,500 per person. If you wanted your own window all to yourself, that was $9,000.

BLOCK: Can you give us some sense of the kinds of people who can afford to take a trip like this? Who's coming on board?

Mr. BROWN: This is quite an eclectic group. We have a small scientific community. We have people that have quite a bit of money that are able to afford something like this. We have people that have literally been saving for years and years expecting a trip like this to occur. So it's all walks of life. There's really no description of a typical eclipse-chaser because they can be anybody.

BLOCK: How many total solar eclipses would you say you have traveled to see in your lifetime?

Mr. BROWN: Well, the first one, if you want to count that as traveling, I went from New York to Virginia.

BLOCK: That counts.

Mr. BROWN: This will be my 13th eclipse.

BLOCK: Is every total solar eclipse different? Do you get something different from the experience every time?

Mr. BROWN: I would say that every eclipse is different. An eclipse kind of has a personality that it takes on. The sun itself has a corona, which is really the part of the eclipse that makes it special, I think. It'll come on with different color, with a different shape.

BLOCK: What do you think it is about it that intrigues you so much?

Mr. BROWN: It's been asked many times before, how do you explain an eclipse? And I still don't know how to answer that question. It's kind of like trying to describe love. It just is an indescribable thing to see. I think that it's nature's way of showing to a person how powerful nature really is.

BLOCK: Well, Rick, have fun this weekend.

Mr. BROWN: Oh, we certainly will do that.

BLOCK: Rick Brown is organizing a flight in the South Pacific to watch this Sunday's total eclipse of the sun. He spoke with us by Skype from Papeete in Tahiti.

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