Singapore couple's eclipse chase takes them to far-flung places

Singapore couple's eclipse chase takes them to far-flung places
PHOTO: Koh Joo Beng

Singaporean couple Koh Joo Beng and Janet Koh have spent the last eight years chasing solar eclipses, a quest which has taken them off the Chilean coast to Easter Island and on a Pacific Ocean "eclipse cruise".

The Kohs' latest adventure took place on the Indonesian island of Tidore last Wednesday, where they caught a total solar eclipse at one of the world's best spots to view the event.

They left Singapore on March 5, sat through two flights and endured hours of waiting in between to reach the island of Ternate last Monday. The island is located in the east of Indonesia.

Then at 5am last Wednesday, lugging six cameras, two tripods and a telescope, they took a 20-minute ferry ride to nearby Tidore island.

Their reward - an awe-inspiring sight and some spectacular photos.

With fine weather and clear skies, the conditions were optimal, said Mr Koh, 55, who is the director of research and development at a design and manufacturing firm here.

"I captured some of my best shots which documented the eclipse from start to finish," he said.

Total eclipses occur when the Sun is completely covered by the Moon when viewed from the Earth's surface.

On Tidore island, the entire eclipse lasted over three hours, with around three minutes of totality - when the Sun was completely covered by the Moon, producing a rim of light.

As a shadow came over the island that morning, the pair were left open-mouthed. They were there with hundreds of other eclipse chasers from Britain, the United States, Denmark, and Hong Kong, and fellow Singaporeans.

"You look up in the sky, you see this bright shimmering light and this black dot in the centre," said Mrs Koh, 59, a retired manager.

"It leaves you speechless."

But besides the spectacular sight, the tourists had another treat.

They were hosted by none other than the sultan of Tidore, who opened his palace grounds to the tourists and set up massive tents to provide his guests with shelter from the hot sun.

"We were even invited to tour his beautiful palace, which was literally very cool," said Mrs Koh.

There was also free flow of cold drinks, dance performances and a sumptuous lunch buffet. The event ended with a tree-planting ceremony to commemorate the spectacle.

So where will their hobby next take them? The answer is Oregon.

On Aug 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse will be visible in the continental United States for the first time since 1979, and the Kohs are all ready to catch it as it reveals itself to the Oregon coast.

"We have not physically started planning, but psychologically, we have started preparing ourselves," said Mr Koh.

The pair say they are just as excited as they were on their first solar eclipse chase in 2008, when they stood awestruck in the shadow of the Moon on a sand dune south of the Gobi Desert.

"Every eclipse is an adventure," said Mrs Koh.

"We try our very best to put ourselves in the right place, then cross our fingers and hope that all goes well and we will once again catch that breathtaking sight," said Mr Koh.

This article was first published on March 18, 2016.
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