Dr Kate Russo
Dr Kate Russo is the recognised authority on the total solar eclipse experience. She loves answering the question - what is it like to experience a total solar eclipse? Not only does she share from her own personal experience of seeing eleven total solar eclipses; she also shares the experiences of thousands of others who have completed her research surveys and interviews. Her responses are also informed by her expertise in Clinical Psychology, with an interest in phenomenology. She has authored three books on the total eclipse experience; has written white papers, book chapters, and numerous articles; and is often featured in the media and documentaries prior to every total eclipse. Kate has delivered her acclaimed lectures on the human experience of totality to thousands of people, with her most popular presentation being Total Solar Eclipse: Not just for bearded men with telescopes. Some of her many engaging media interviews can be viewed on her website at www.beingintheshadow.com
Kate is a native Australian, and has spent over 20 years based in Belfast in Northern Ireland as a Clinical Psychologist with the National Health Service, and where she was an Assistant Course Director of a doctoral training programme in Clinical Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast. She is a popular speaker and workshop facilitator on a variety of health psychology topics at national and international events, especially in the fields of cystic areas, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease. She is known for her engaging and down-to-earth style.
She recently moved back to Australia and is working in a private psychology practice in Townsville that shares her core values and passion for life. She occasionally runs engaging writing workshops – often on board cruise ships that have six-week itineraries. She loves to encourage people to find their passion and to live a meaningful life.
Kate began her partnership with The Independent Traveller back in 2013, offering unique eclipse experience opportunities for those without an astronomy background. Due to her strong community eclipse-planning involvement, tour participants often experience a side of the eclipse that is not available to astronomy tour groups.
Recent Independent Traveller eclipse tours led by Kate include:
- Totality 2015 in the Faroe Islands: 140 international travellers experienced totality as part of a unique community-based eclipse celebration in a small fishing village on the north of this remote island archipelago. Our celebration event in the most beautiful setting was used as the location for the BBC Stargazing Live broadcast. Some of our participants had the opportunity to take part in live interviews, sadly under cloudy skies. The dramatic darkness witnessed in this incredible location didn’t seem to dampen the mood of this close-knit community.
- Totality 2017 in the Tetons: A smaller group of x international travellers experienced a gloriously clear total eclipse in one of the most stunning natural settings across the whole of the eclipse path across the US - in Grand Teton National Park. From our elevated luxurious vantage point overlooking Jackson Hole, our group could not believe how lucky and privileged we were to experience the power of totality in such raw, beautiful surroundings.
- Totality 2020 in Patagonia: Special things are again planned for the total eclipse in 2020, with an intimate eclipse tour experience for a select number of participants
This article by Dr Kate Russo was first published on SKY AND TELESCOPE MAGAZINE – and we thank them for permission to reuse this.
The Eclipse Experience
What is it really like to watch the Moon cover the Sun?
Talk to people who’ve witnessed a total solar eclipse, and you’ll notice their eyes light up. They become increasingly animated and overuse words like “awesome” and “life-changing.” The intensity of their passion is evident — yet surely it can’t be thatexciting, can it?
Before my first total solar eclipse in 1999, I’d never met anyone who had seen “totality.” From what I’d read, it was certainly going to be special and interesting. But I had no inkling that it would be such an overwhelming emotional roller coaster.
I have now chased 11 total eclipses, and they’ve become a huge part of my life. As a psychologist, I now research the eclipse experience, helping to communicate the complexity of this event. I also guide communities situated within the path of totality in their preparations. I aim to share the experience of totality with as many people as possible.
What to Expect: Above, Around, Within
Many people have witnessed a partial solar eclipse. Seeing the Moon’s silhouette marching across the Sun is a wonderful demonstration of fortuitous celestial alignments. But witnessing totality is a wholly different — and wholly immersive — experience!
As the eclipse progresses and most of the Sun is covered, the environment changes. You notice the dimming and special quality of the light around you, the fading colors and the drop in temperature. Nature becomes quiet, and you too become hushed as the Moon’s shadow creeps eerily toward you.
The ominous darkening in the sky can be seen and felt. Many have an intense physical reaction at this moment. The hair on the back of your neck rises, and goose bumps cover your arms. You feel excitement tinged with mild terror, as the world around you rapidly becomes engulfed in an unknown darkness.
Those final moments before totality are incredibly powerful as things change rapidly. The brilliantdiamond ring— a last gleam of sunlight seen against the lunar silhouette — heralds the start of totality. This sight is so otherworldly that you think it’s a special effect from some science-fiction movie. You find yourself screaming out with excitement, not knowing what you are saying. The remaining arc of light reduces until there are only tiny beads of it shining through the valleys of the Moon — creating an effect called Baily’s beads.
And then you are, quite literally,plunged into darkness. You are standing in the shadow of the Moon. Totality.
A black hole appears in the sky where the Sun should be, like a celestial eye gazing back at you. The world around you is now in deep twilight — dark enough to revealplanets and the brightest starsabove, with glorious sunset colors all around the horizon. As your eyes adapt to this surreal darkness, the Sun’s atmosphere— the corona— becomes visible. Silvery, wispy, and ethereal, it seductively surrounds the eclipsed Sun. Crimson-hued prominencescanalso be seen leapingfrom the edgeof the now-hidden Sun.
The world seems to be suspended in time, as you are lost in your own little rapture.You feel an immediate connection to our primitive ancestors, who would have been terrified by all this, possibly believing the end of the world was imminent. A little part of you also wonders if the Sun will ever return. You recognize that we humans are but a small and insignificant part of the vastness of our universe. It’s a strangely comforting and empowering insight, like you’ve finally figured out what life is all about, and that your life matters.
More brilliant beads of light mark the beginning of the end.The diamond ring again dazzles before daylight’s full brightness returns. Totality might be over, but the experience has been seared into your brain — a new, vivid memory that you’ll hold dear forever.
Not Just “Once in a Lifetime”
After witnessing my first total eclipse, I turned to my partner, choked up, and we hugged. Others around us were hugging too, some with tears in their eyes. We were allconnected through the experience, andno words could be found— nor werethey needed.
No other event in my life has had such a positive and powerful impact, igniting a passion that will burn for a lifetime. I’d become an eclipse-chaser even before I knew there was such a thing. I wanted to repeat what just happened, and I just knew this would not be a one-and-done event for me.Every total solar eclipse is unique and special, like a new chapter in my life.
I firmly believe that if every person could experience a total solar eclipse, the world would be a better place. A totalsolar eclipse is more than just a celestial event. It’s a meaningful lifeevent — anawe-inspiring and fully immersive naturalwonderthat you’ll cherish for a lifetime.
An earlier version of this article was published in Sky & Telescope Magazine in 2017.
Dr. Kate Russo is an author, psychologist, and eclipse chaser who has published three books sharing stories of the total eclipse experience.