• Image about Mike Kentrianakis
The crucifixion scene in the 1961 movie Barabbas, starring Anthony Quinn, was filmed during an actual solar eclipse.
Everett Collection

With 45 minutes and 17.9 seconds spent in totality, Brown currently is in ninth place on the totality list. He leapfrogged ahead of other umbraphiles on July 11, 2010, by doing something extreme, even by eclipse-chasing standards: He chartered an Airbus A319 to view the eclipse off Tahiti — and maximize his totality.

Under optimal conditions, totality maxes out at about seven and a half minutes. But by moving with the moon’s umbral shadow at about 500 miles per hour at an altitude of 39,000 feet, Brown and 40 other passengers spent nine and a half minutes in totality — a new world record.

“The areas of totality for this particular eclipse only touched a few very small points of land — some small atolls east of Tahiti,” Brown explains. “People on Tahiti saw only 99 percent totality. The geometry of this particular eclipse was about 47 degrees above the horizon, which allowed us to view it from the air.”

Brown is an outlier of sorts among umbraphiles. He was so bitten by the eclipse bug that he now organizes eclipse tours as a hobby and says the profits pay his own freight. For the Tahiti flight, hard-core umbraphiles doled out $6,500 apiece to share a window, or $9,500 for their own window. All the seats on the left-hand side of the plane were ?removed to make room for telescopes, cameras and video recorders.
“And that price didn’t include their airfare to and from Tahiti, or the lodging, which I arranged and which cost about $3,000 per person,” he points out.

Umbraphiles find it difficult to pick their favorite eclipse.

“Every one has its own personality,” notes Brown, who estimates he’s logged about 500,000 miles flying to eclipses all over the globe. “People think that if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.”

But memorable moments abound. In 2001, he watched a total eclipse in ?Zambia with around 500 new friends — native tribesmen, many who’d never even seen a white man before.

“After spending a week there, we were local celebrities,” he says. “By the time we left, the head of the tribe offered my wife’s cousin a cow (in exchange) for his 6-year-old son.”

For Pasachoff, the July 2009 total eclipse, visible to millions of people in China, ranks up there with the best.

“We saw all the eclipse phenomena, ?including the last sliver of everyday sun disappearing, the so-called ?diamond-ring effect, when a bright bead of sunlight lingers on the edge of the moon as the total eclipse begins and ends,” he recalls. “Many people go just to see the ?diamond-ring effect because it’s so striking.
“Just as totality begins, everything is black on the moon except for this bright bead of light — the last bit of sunlight shining through a valley on the moon. It’s dazzling; photos just don’t do it justice.”

Then there was the July 2010 trip to Easter Island, where Pasachoff and others walked and set up cameras and telescopes near the famous brooding Moai statues. Or the total eclipse in Romania in 1999, where local officials agreed to shut down a large outdoor rock concert for a few minutes of silence during totality.

“Each eclipse burns itself into your mind,” he says.