QUEST tells the story of two Bay Area eclipse chasers – people so entranced by the sight of the moon completely covering the sun that they travel around the world to get a firsthand view of the phenomenon. Paul Doherty is a physicist at San Francisco’s Exploratorium who was part of the museum’s team that broadcast the latest total eclipse live, on Aug. 1, 2008, from China’s Gobi desert. The second eclipse chaser profiled in our story is Charles Burckhalter, the first director of the Chabot Space and Science Center, in Oakland, who in 1900 pioneered a way of photographing total solar eclipses. With a contraption that he placed on his telescope, he was able to take detailed photos of the sun’s corona, the halo that peaks out from behind the moon when it covers the sun during an eclipse.
The footage of the August total eclipse that we got from the Exploratorium and used in our story is incredibly beautiful. The red images of the sun that you’ll see are created by a telescope that views the sun in a wavelength of hydrogen gas. “The sun is mostly made of hydrogen gas,” said Doherty, “and this is a deep red wavelength called hydrogen alpha.” You can watch the entire China 2008 eclipse on the Exploratorium’s web site. And Doherty recommends trying to view the next two total solar eclipses live. They will be visible on July 22, 2009, from Shanghai, China, and on July 11, 2010, from Easter Island. But if your budget doesn’t allow you to travel that far, you can always wait until 2017, when a total eclipse will be visible in Washington and Oregon and all the way across the United States to South Carolina. Or you can plan to visit the Exploratorium or the Chabot Space and Science Center on any of those three days, to watch the eclipse through their live feed.