Sunday, 18 November 2012

Total Solar Eclipse: 14 November 2012

Total Solar Eclipse on 14 November 2012

We live just outside the track for solar eclipse totality that occurred this past week. Neither of us had ever seen a total solar eclipse. We decided that we couldn't let the chance of a lifetime slip past. In the weeks leading up to the eclipse, we kept our eyes out for a possible viewing spot within the track of totality and also within reasonable driving distance from our home. We spotted a farmer's paddock on the other side of the Atherton Tablelands. There was a bit of room between the highway and the paddock suitable for parking and providing a clear view to the southeast. Totality for the location would occur around 6:40 a.m.

As the day of the eclipse grew nearer, a gloomy weatherman began predicting cloudy days and warned that our region might miss out on seeing the eclipse. Warnings in the media about traffic congestion and delays increased as massive numbers of visitors began arriving in the region. More people began to consider driving further inland where clear skies were more assured. But inland roads and facilities are very limited. 

We heard that one station owner got a phone call asking if he would be willing to accommodate some Japanese tourists who were arriving in Australia for the event and leaving the day after. The property owner liked the idea of earning some easy money and said, sure, how many? “3000.” Oh, said the property owner, well, I do have five tents....

We rose before dawn on the day of the eclipse. It was cloudy. We drove toward our selected spot as the day began to get light. We encountered light sprinkles of rain which increased by the time we reached the halfway point in our journey. Traffic also increased. We got delayed by roadworks. In spite of growing uncertainty, we pressed on.

Fortune favoured us. The clouds cleared by the time we reached the farmer's paddock where another four or five cars were already parked, including one belonging to a friend. People stood wearing special glasses as they gazed toward the sun.

We hadn't found any of the special glasses to buy at local stores. To protect our eyes, Jerry had prepared a pinhole projector for viewing the eclipse. He cut a hole in large piece of cardboard and taped aluminium foil across the hole. Using a needle, he punched a small, smooth hole in the aluminium foil. The image of the growing eclipse was projected and focused onto a sheet of white paper fastened to a clipboard leaning against the wheel of the car. Not exactly elegant, but it worked perfectly.

He was arranging the set-up when another car pulled in beside us and a young woman's three sons hopped out as she tended to extracting an infant. They didn't have special eclipse glasses either. The boys clustered about Jerry as he pointed out the projected eclipse image and explained the set-up. Science in action. The five year old grew excited and said he had a piece of white paper and a clipboard in the car. He ran to get it. When he returned, Jerry solemnly put the boy's paper and clipboard in position in front of ours. The boys crouched beside the clipboard and watched the image of the slowly changing eclipse. Ownership does give learning an edge.

As soon as the eclipse was total, we all turned around and looked at the eclipsed sun. Words fail. I felt completely gob-smacked. I felt joyous, like I was witnessing a birth. What a privilege to witness such an event.

The twin grandsons, now two years old and living on the coast, likewise got a terrific view of the totality. When it ended, they demanded, “More!”

From the mouths of babes....

Post by M in JaM
Photo by J in JaM

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