Jennifer Terman

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February 27, 2013
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Local eclipse chasers to shed light on experience (VIDEO)

While some may hunt for game, ghosts, or bargains, others seek something a little bigger and brighter.

Grass Valley couple David and Lorraine Buchla have made a point to chase solar eclipses, and have witnessed 12 total solar eclipses around the world.

“The eclipses are absolutely amazing and the travel involved is just absolutely phenomenal,” said Lorraine Buchla.

David Buchla, the president of the Nevada County Astronomy Club, said he became interested in astronomy many years ago, and saw his first solar eclipse July 10, 1972, one of the several eclipse dates David said he has memorized.

“They had the first cruise ship to see the eclipse, so I got interested and it was a fantastic event,” he said.

In 1973, Buchla chased an eclipse in Africa, and another in Yakima, Wash., Feb. 26, 1979. The couple retired in 1999 and has since chased every solar eclipse since then.

“The last one was on the coast of Australia,” David Buchla said. “It went right across the northern part of Queensland and then it went across the Pacific Ocean.”

David Buchla, who taught high school physics for many years, became familiar with the cycles of the sun and the flash spectrum, which shows the sun’s chemicals in various levels, as well as the corona and chromosphere.

He conducts presentations about his experiences and will speak at the next Nevada County Astronomers Club meeting in the Community Room of the Madelyn Helling Library March 6. His presentation will include a brief overview of eclipses, eclipse cycles, the sun and its spectrum and the flash spectrum of the sun’s chromosphere, a layer of the environment of the sun and its composition and temperature, as well as share photographs of a Papua New Guinea trip.

“We started at Rabaul and then went from there to a number of villages on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea,” David said. “It was really quite fantastic. The Sepik River went to the volcano there and I took a nighttime picture and it was a five-second exposure of the Manam volcano, which is quite active in New Guinea.”

The couple was aboard a ship when they passed the volcano, which was so close that Lorraine said she could taste ash in the air.

“We stopped at a couple of the cities along the way, then we went to Milne Bay, a major World War II battle site, then we moved back on the ship and we traveled from New Guinea down to the eclipse just off the coast of Australia,” said David, whose photos have been published in Astronomy Magazine.

The brightly colored clothing of the natives was another interesting part of the experience, he said.

“The natives wear headdresses and outfits which use the Bird of Paradise feathers, which I don’t know if they’re doing that much, since the species is endangered,” David Buchla said. “Some of the headgear people were wearing were just amazing.”

The love for the eclipse chase is something the couple passed down through their family, and took their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren to Egypt and their granddaughter to Tahiti in 2010, along with their grandson to Russia in 2008. An eclipse even graced the birthday of Lorraine’s sister on May 20, 2012.

“It was interesting for our family, too, as it was my sister’s birthday, so it was very special,” Lorraine said.

The eclipse involves the complete covering of the sun by the moon, which momentarily allows the viewer to safely look at the sun with the naked eye and witness parts of the sun that cannot be normally seen.

“During that time, the sun is totally blocked out and you are able to view it without any special filters or glasses. We saw one that lasted only 30 seconds, but occasionally you’re lucky enough to catch one that is seven minutes,” Lorraine said.

“You see the prominences that project out from behind where the moon has the main part of the sun covered and you see the flares and prominences. Sometimes you see much more of the outer edges and sometimes you see more on one eclipse than another — the bright glow of the sun. You know the sun is behind the moon, but you can actually see it just when the eclipse is beginning. The moon creeps across and takes a bite out of the sun and more and more of the sun is being swallowed up by the moon.”

The diamond ring effect, where the moon begins to shift away from the sun and reveal a bright spot connected to the glowing outer part of the sun which looks like a diamond ring, is her favorite part, she said.

“After a total eclipse, the moon is gradually moving off the face of the sun and you get a diamond ring as it’s starting to come out of totality, too,” she said.

“So that’s kind of the signal that you need to put your special glasses on.”

Beyond a simple hobby, the travel and devotion required to track solar eclipses requires near obsession, Lorraine Buchla said.

“I guess it’s become an obsession, you might say, so we’re always looking forward to where the next one is,” she said. “The anticipation of it and, of course, some people have the idea that it gets really dark, but twilight is a better description of it, not total darkness. And sometimes we’re on land when we do the eclipse, sometimes on board a ship and everybody has their spot and there’s all this camera equipment set up and just waiting and waiting and hoping that the cloud over there is not going to drift across the sun … then there’s the period of time where it’s very quiet as everybody is anticipating the eclipse about to occur and then screaming and shouting and saying ‘Yay, we did it!’”

The trips not only involve the eclipses, but the travel required makes the trips so exciting, she said.

“All of the interesting traveling experiences we’ve had from Australia to Zimbabwe, we went to countries we would have probably never been to without chasing the eclipses,” Lorraine Buchla said.

The Buchlas said they typically travel through an intimate cruise line called Orion Cruises, which only hold 91 passengers.

“It’s really hard to explain because the solar eclipse is a lot more than what you see in a picture,” David Buchla said. “It’s like some people that go the Super Bowl. It’s the most striking natural phenomena you can see. One famous physicist had to rate such a phenomenon on a scale of one to 10, and said ‘That’s a million.’

“Every time I give the talk, I say, if there’s one thing you got to do, see a solar eclipse.”

The next solar eclipse in the U.S. will be Aug. 23, 2017.

“There will be one in the U.S. across the northern part of Oregon and it goes clear across the United State and out to South Carolina, so there’s plenty of locations,” David said. “I always say the whole country ought to move over and watch it.” To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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The Union Updated Feb 28, 2013 04:54PM Published Feb 28, 2013 04:10PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.