Next week I’m heading to far north Queensland to see one of the wonders of the world. Or should I say, one of the wonders as seen from the world. Low down on the horizon, not long after sunrise on November 14, the Moon will pass in front of the sun and a Total Solar Eclipse will be visible to anyone in or nearby to Cairns.
For a visual idea of what is going to happen, here’s a sciency GIF.
Total Solar Eclipses are the Olympics of the astronomical world. They cause a lot of people to rush to one location with the promise of a great spectacle. Occasionally the weather ruins things, but quite often they deliver a visual delight that is hard to match. I mean, the things those gymnasts do on the bars. Yikes!
I’m going on this Nerdtrip, with a nerd-friend of mine called Ken, because I want the spectacle. But I’m also going because I’m curious. Will the eclipse temporarily throw darkness upon the land? Will the birds stop chirping, mistakenly thinking the day went by super fast? Will otherwise-oblivious passers-by see the eclipse and freak out, thinking the end of the world has suddenly come?
A Total Solar Eclipse is a natural phenomenon that only occurs every 18 months or so, and doesn’t usually take place over densely-populated locations like Cairns and Port Douglas, which are perfectly positioned for this eclipse. Around 50,000 are expected in the region to see the celestial event.
As a boy I was always jealous of my mum who witnessed the Great Melbourne Total Solar Eclipse of ’76 (as it is never called). No doubt the elusiveness of that oh-so-close eclipse (missed it by just six years) has been feeding my desire to see one for reals. That, and the romantic image of a Total Solar Eclipse saving Tintin’s hide which was burned into my memory as a kid (and which now, on reflection, appears to be quite condescending to the Incan people).
Nonetheless, I am excited for this eclipse. And I’m not the only one. Chartered flights will be bringing people to Cairns direct from Japan; an eclipse-themed music festival will run for seven days; there will be cruise ships on the Coral Sea and hot air balloons in the sky; a bunch of important NASA scientists will be at a VIP gathering somewhere west of Cairns; there will be an eclipse tweet-up on the beach at Palm Cove; and the eclipse chasers will be out in force. Eclipse chasers are exactly what they sound like – people who follow eclipses all over the world. One of the more prolific chasers Kate Russo dramatically defines an eclipse chaser on her website as ‘someone who has made a life choice to give in to their insatiable desire to re-experience the thrill and excitement of totality‘. It sounds kind of bonkers, but you have to respect the unfiltered passion.
Even down here in Melbourne we’re not immune to eclipse fever. This is an actual sticker I saw a month ago at a pedestrian crossing in Collingwood. Some guerilla marketing from the people running the eclipse music festival (the same folks who run the Rainbow Serpent festival, by the by).
I shouldn’t finish writing without warning that if you are planning on seeing this solar eclipse (or any other) you shouldn’t look directly at the sun. It will fry your eyes and melt your brain. See instructions for safe eclipse viewing here. There is also a wealth of information about the November eclipse on this educational website set up by the Astronomical Association of Queensland.
Sadly it will all be over in a matter of moments as the eclipse lasts for barely two minutes. And my Nerdtrip travelling buddy Ken and I will have to deal with the eclipse comedown by snorkeling, swimming, rainforesting and beer-ing in the sun.
After all, what good is a Total Solar Eclipse if you don’t use the opportunity to work on your tan?