Reflections on the Total Eclipse of the Sun

So it happened.

Hordes of people covered the beaches. The moon covered the sun. And the clouds covered the eclipse.

But only for a minute or so. In the end, we had a clear view of the total solar eclipse in Far North Queensland for one of the two minutes of totality. Did it live up to the expectations that led me to go on my Nerdtrip in the first place?

Firstly let me just say that I had my doubts about a total eclipse that took place so soon after sunrise; so close to the horizon. But – oh boy – it was a sensational and fitting warm-up act. The sun is a glowing, bulbous orb when viewed through so much sky and atmosphere. As I inadequately captured with my point’n’shoot.

The clouds hovered and threatened our vantage point on Port Douglas beach from first light, but as the moon began moving across the face of the sun my travelling buddy Ken and I were able to clearly see the beginning of the eclipse.

Everyone around us on the beach had long-necked cameras on tripods and special eclipse-observing glasses. But not us. We had our own scientific equipment – a cardboard poster tube with a pair of binoculars sticky-taped to the top that projected the sun onto a big piece of white cardboard.

We were the DIY nerds of the eclipse, bringing science and sticky tape together. Here I am with our astronomical contraption.

It may not look like much but it did a pretty good job of showing us the eclipse as it happened.

I was fascinated to see how dark the world would be with the sun was completely obscured. And I had to wait a while as the darkness didn’t show up until the eclipse was almost total.

It turns out more than 80% of the sun needs to be covered before a difference in the light can be noticed. I took some bad video of the couple of minutes leading up to totality that shows things getting dark. Keep an eye out for Venus, which reappears in the dark sky (at the top of the screen) once totality hits.

We thought we were out of luck as totality struck when the clouds had overtaken the sun. But right after the above video finishes the clouds got out of the way and we saw the total eclipse in all its glory.

And it was glorious.

This is the best image of it that I managed to capture.

But that photo doesn’t really convey what it was like to witness the eclipse. It also didn’t look like the stunning photos on the internet that look like this…

In truth, what we saw looked more like this…

For me this latter image (a beautiful piece of work that I must credit to AAP and photographer Brian Cassey) sums up exactly what was so spectacular about the eclipse. And why it totally met my expectations.

Because it wasn’t just about one planetary body moving in front of another. It was about being on Earth and seeing the moon, which by some fluke is the Exact Right Size and Exact Right Distance Away to seemingly slip over the sun like a perfect mask.

And once totality was over the celebratory drinks were pulled from eskies all along the beach front. At this point the day was still younger than 7am.

It’s been a month since the eclipse now. And every time I’ve looked up and seen the moon since I’ve thought of it differently. With a renewed admiration. Because it performed this miraculous feat of shutting down the sun – the goliath centre of our solar system – if only for a few minutes.

It was a hell of a show. Earth’s little pockmarked satellite has a definite, if irregular, flair for showbiz. The evidence was in all the cheering that took place on the beaches of Far North Queensland early one morning last November.

I couldn’t have been happier with Nerdtrip 2012. And I’m already looking forward to the next total solar eclipse to take place in Australia – Sydney 2028.

My one tip for that eclipse – book your accommodation now!

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