ST. LOUIS • Most people are lucky if they see one total solar eclipse in their lifetime.
Sharon and Billy Hahs don’t leave it up to chance.
Since 1991, the Kirkwood couple have chased 14 solar eclipses, all in different countries, and have managed to catch 11 of them. This year, they won’t have to travel far.
Their family-owned farmhouse in Sedgewickville, Mo., is within the path of totality for the event Aug. 21. They, along with their friends and family, will gather to watch the astronomical phenomenon from the backyard of the white, two-story clapboard house, which has been in the Hahs family for six generations.
It’s almost like it was meant to be.
Self-proclaimed eclipse aficionados, the Hahses have the science of eclipse-viewing down to a T. They’ve seen eclipses in Ethiopia, Australia, Zambia, Norway, Easter Island and many other places they wouldn’t have thought to visit if it weren’t for their love of astronomy.
“You know roughly what’s going to happen,” Sharon Hahs said of eclipse-viewing. “But with each one you have a deeper appreciation for our physical world.”
Sharon Hahs, who retired last year from her position as president of Northeastern Illinois University, photographs every eclipse using a camera with a 500 mm lens. She said the camera is good enough to capture the whole corona, but photos can never do it justice.
That’s why Billy Hahs, using his painting skills, tries to capture what the camera misses. He brings paint samples of every shade of blue to each eclipse site. During totality, he takes notes describing the eclipse’s size, shape, symmetry and any other observations. After the moon passes, he immediately chooses which shade most closely matched the sky’s hue during the eclipse.
“It took me until the third eclipse to notice that the sky was not black,” Billy Hahs said. “It was dark blue.”
Billy Hahs, a former public defender in Madison County, also recently retired. The couple said they now have more time than ever to pursue their hobby, which began in 1991 after Billy Hahs wanted an excuse to take his wife on a trip to Costa Rica, a country he had visited the year before.
That eclipse lasted 6 minutes and 53 seconds, a record that won’t be beaten until the year 2132.
Unfortunately, the Hahses didn’t actually get to see the eclipse in Costa Rica. It was blocked by rain clouds.
“In terms of the weather, you’ve got to be philosophical or zen-like,” Billy Hahs said. If you miss an eclipse, just let it go.
Their advice for viewers on Aug. 21?
Don’t look directly at the eclipse until it reaches totality. And don’t get so carried away with taking pictures that you forget to enjoy the moment.
If you really pay attention to your surroundings, Billy Hahs said, you might notice some strange things. During their eclipse trip to Zambia, for instance, the animals on a farm they stayed at started heading back to their bedtime posts because they thought the sun had set.
“When it’s finished,” Sharon Hahs said. “In every crowd, you’re going to hear somebody say, ‘When is the next one?’”