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Klipsi pursues the dark

There’s a total eclipse somewhere in the world every year

(Keystone Archive)

Olivier Staiger is a man who loves being kept in the dark - that is why he spends all his spare time chasing eclipses around the world.

For most of the year, Staiger - also known as Klipsi - is a Geneva chauffeur. But while he is at the wheel, he will be planning his next globetrotting jaunt.

"There's a total eclipse somewhere in the world every year," he explains. Staiger, a veteran of some 15 total eclipses, organises his holidays around the predictions of where and when they will happen.

He lists the places his hobby has taken him: "Brazil, Mongolia, Thailand, Zambia, Australia, Easter Island, Baffin Island, Ascension Island...."

"It's a combination of astronomy and gastronomy," Klipsi jokes, "Eclipses have allowed me to learn so much about other cultures."

No two the same

A variety of factors - the different locations, the weather conditions, the position of the sun and moon - mean that no two eclipses are the same. "Even if they were identical, you would still go. It's that great," Staiger says.

"Maybe people think I'm a little mad. I don't care. You can't really understand it unless you've experienced it. Even if you've seen a 98 per cent partial eclipse, you still haven't seen the whole show," he adds.

Not content with experiencing the eerie majesty of the eclipse, Staiger wants to share it with others. He has become an expert at photographing the phenomenon, and often broadcasts the events live on the internet. An extensive record of his eclipse trips can be found on his website - eclipse.span.ch.

His pictures and videos have won him a certain renown in astronomy circles. Much of this fame is down to one picture - a rare double occultation of Jupiter and Venus by the moon, taken from Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It was an event that had not been witnessed on Earth for 1,500 years.

Close to heaven

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, Klipsi's most treasured memory is when he lost his eclipse virginity. It was in 1994, at the Iguaçu Falls in Brazil.

"It was awesome. It totally knocked me over," he tells swissinfo. "I felt as though I had come this close to seeing heaven. It's the first time you see the sky in three dimensions."

On average, any given spot on the Earth will see a total eclipse once every 330 years. Switzerland, which experienced a partial eclipse in 1999, is not due another total eclipse until the end of this century.

However, Klipsi's homeland has witnessed a special astronomical event in April, a Saturn graze occultation, in which the ringed planet can be seen passing behind the moon, and "grazing" its edge.

Antarctic trip

Staiger already has several future trips planned - Mexico in June, southern Australia in December. But the expedition he is most looking forward to is in November 2003, when he will witness a total solar eclipse in Antarctica from the deck of an ice-breaker.

"I want to film the reaction of the penguins," he says.

But eclipse-chasing does not come cheap, especially when the event is being transmitted live on the web, and Klipsi is desperately seeking sponsors.

Staiger is certain to be joined on board by many other members of the eclipse-chasing network around the world.

"You can be a professor or a car-wash attendant - we are all friends with the same passion," he says. Klipsi and his circle of eclipse devotees will already have made a note in their diaries to meet up on Easter Island in 2010, in Monument Valley, Arizona, in 2012 and - Inshallah - in Mecca in 2027.

Tornadoes

But eclipses have only partially satisfied Staiger's wanderlust. He has also acquired a taste for dangerous weather phenomena - especially violent thunderstorms and tornadoes.

"In May I like to chase tornadoes in Tornado Alley, in Oklahoma and Kansas. They are almost as fascinating as eclipses," he says.

May 2012 offers Staiger a chance to combine his two passions - a total eclipse is due in Tornado Alley. "That's my ultimate dream. A total eclipse at sunset behind a tornado."

That would make some picture.

By Roy Probert

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