In 1980, 21-year-old Martin Ratcliffe went on a trip to Kenya to go on a safari and see his first total solar eclipse.
“I used all of my savings to go on that trip, and it was the best decision I ever made,” Ratcliffe said.
The total solar eclipse coming on Aug. 21 will be the seventh he sees in person.
Ratcliffe said people can read about eclipses, look at spectacular photos and even watch videos of total eclipses, but none of it adequately conveys the experience. He compared it to someone’s first time standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon.
“It was a totally overwhelming natural spectacle,” Ratcliffe said. “I truly got to understand in that moment why ancient people were scared when the sun went out.”
He said it got dark out more suddenly than any sunset.
“In a total eclipse, you get plunged into darkness,” he said.
His other immediate reaction was wanting to know when and where the next time was that he could see a total eclipse.
“It goes by in what feels like seconds,” he said.
Ratcliffe got a part-time job to save up for the trip to Kenya after friends in the British Astronomical Association reported on their experience seeing a 1979 eclipse in Montana — the most recent total eclipse viewable in the continental United States. He has since traveled to see five other total eclipses, in places like India, the Dutch Antilles and a Mediterranean island off the coast of Turkey.
He said he has heard so many people say they thought they saw a total eclipse and thought it was “pretty good.”
“If you got a ‘pretty good’ reaction from total, you didn’t see total,” he told an audience July 20 at the Cosmosphere.
Later, Ratcliffe reiterated a point he made in his Cosmosphere presentation.
“On a scale of 1-10, a partial eclipse is a seven,” he said. “A total eclipse is a million.”
Ratcliffe is a native of the United Kingdom who now lives in Wichita. He trains planetarium operators for Sky-Skan, is a columnist for…