Will Gater is one of the UK’s best-known popularisers of astronomy. His work has appeared in New Scientist, BBC Sky at Night Magazine, Focus and Astronomy Now, among others. In 2016 he performed his first live stage show, The Story of the Solar System, which he is now touring to theatres around the UK. Alongside his work as a journalist and science presenter he is also a seasoned observational astronomer and astrophotographer with over twenty years’ experience of observing and photographing the night sky. Will has worked with us since 2013 as a guide on our Northern Lights flights as well as two previous eclipse-chasing tours.
Will is also going to be part of our 2019 eclipse tours in Chile, so we took the chance to ask him a few questions ahead of the trips.
When did your interest in astronomy begin and what started it?
I’d been interested in space as a little kid, but it really developed into a full-blown obsession when I went to secondary school. I had some great teachers there who ran a brilliant lunchtime astronomy club for about ten or fifteen of us and we were lucky enough to have an observatory in the school grounds too. I’ve not stopped looking up since!
How many times have you seen a total solar eclipse?
2019 will be my fifth total solar eclipse chase. Every one has been very different, whether it’s the challenges of getting into the eclipse path, the weather and landscape at the observing site or the general atmosphere during the event. What unites them though is the truly breathtaking experience that is totality and the extraordinary feeling of spine-tingling awe and raw emotion that comes with it. That’s something that stays with you forever.
Which of these was your favourite and why?
That’s such a difficult question to answer! I think really there are lots of moments from each eclipse that I think back on fondly. The minutes leading up to totality during the March 2015 eclipse really stick in my mind for example.
We were stood on a hillside in the bitter cold in the Faroe Islands with icy rain showers lashing against us every now and again, and there were small cloud gaps moving across the sky tantalising us. As totality approached it wasn’t obvious that there would be an opening in the right spot to give us a view through the cloud deck. But at the very moment the umbral shadow reached our site, the totally eclipsed Sun and the bright streamers of the corona suddenly appeared in a gap that seemed to just emerge from nowhere. The sound of that hillside erupting in cheers of joy and surprise was electrifying.
What are you most looking forward to about the eclipse in Chile in 2019?
Well, I’m delighted to be working once again with Omega Holidays and consider myself very lucky to be a guest astronomer on this trip. What I enjoy most about this role, and what I always look forward to, is the camaraderie that develops within
the tour group and how the excitement, nerves and euphoria of chasing a total solar eclipse really unites everyone.