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Ningaloo Solar Eclipse chasing

Toner Stevenson, vice president Sydney City Skywatchers, Saturday 15 April 2023.

Total Solar Eclipse, Warm Springs Oregon, 2017. Photo Toner Stevenson

Experiencing a total solar eclipse is a spectacular and unforgettable experience, especially if you are in the path of totality. I co-authored a book called Eclipse Chasers about uniquely Australian solar eclipses which is about past and future eclipses. Today is five days before the first of five upcoming total solar eclipses in Australia.

On 20 April, 2023 a total solar eclipse will be visible from far western Western Australia and me, my partner Ron Stevenson and astronomer Melissa Hulbert, will be there. The weather has been causing concern, with severe level 5 cyclone Isla hitting the land 2 days ago, causing destruction a Pardoo Roadhouse, and remote areas of WA. The cyclone has abated, the sky is blue, there is a moderate wind and the temperature is 20 degrees. Right now the situation looks perfect for eclipse chasing, according to Nick Lomb, SCSW member,co-author and a fellow eclipse chaser.

STOP PRESS: You can livestream from SCSW member, Adriano Massatoni's you-tube site where he is using a DSLR combined with a 600mm refractor

A rare hybrid eclipse

This is going to be a rare hybrid eclipse, this describes the pathway of the shadow of the Moon and means that at first it will be seen as an annular eclipse with the Sun not fully covered by the Moon and having a ring around it, and then as a total solar eclipse with the Sun completely covered, then, as the eclipse track finishes in the Pacific Ocean it will again be seen as an annular eclipse. It all depends on your location. The narrow 40km wide path of totality is only visible from a narrow piece of land jutting into the ocean at Exmouth for a distance of no more than 65km. There are a few small islands and the shadow of the Moon touches land in Indonesia but in Australia, unless you are within the pointy piece of land, you will only see a partial phase.

Our eclipse destination is Learmonth and the partial phases are due to start at 10.04, with totality at 11:29am when we are hoping for 61 seconds of totality. The partial phase will then end at 1:02 pm.

Media interest on the way

We have been busy. The ABC Perth morning interview (11 April) with Nadia Mitsopoulos caused a rush on eclipse glasses at the WA Museum, Boola Bardip.

ABC Perth Studios. Photo T. Stevenson

That evening I was interviewed by Casey Bennetto ABC Radio Vic, NSW and WA about the Eclipse Chasers book (link) and the article I wrote about women’s participation in historical eclipse expeditions for The Conversation.

We have visited the wonderful WA Maritime and Shipwreck Museums, and found the navigation, bark and dugout canoes of First Nations Peoples, the wreck of the Batavia and marine archaeology fascinating. The Australia II yacht and exhibit includes Bob Hawke’s jacket which he wore at the celebration and I recall his statement about giving everyone a day off with smile.

WA Museum - world leaders

WA Museum Boola Bardip is an extraordinary museum which has successfully engaged First Nations Peoples and communities, expert scientists, storytellers, artists and photographers, filmmakers and designers in realizing a bold vision which offers visitors agency.

On 12 April Deanne Fitzgerald, Head of Indigenous Interpretation, introduced Melissa and myself and we presented the Eclipse Chasers book to a very appreciative audience (image left).

It was great to catch-up with many who had toes with the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney Observatory and Perth Observatory as well as those preparing for the eclipse. I felt very honoured to be part of this Museum experience.

Carnavon Space Centre

It was a given that we would stop in Carnarvon and visit this highly significant heritage centre which was vital to the Apollo 11 Moon landing. There was so much to see indoor and outside with authentic switching and monitoring devices which checked the astronauts heart rates and well-being, as well as receiving the signals from the space capsule.

We are part of the most wonderful solar system

Out in the desert, seeing kangaroos and Emu in the wild, scavenger birds circling above roadkill, the mirage - like haze shimmering on the road ahead and the clear turquoise waters against the red and yellow sands are all powerful reminders that we are part of this planet, solar system and nature.

That is what makes a solar eclipse meaningful – the Sun Earth, Moon perfect alignment and each one I have experienced has been different. I will prepare a telescope, cameras and have ideas of what to notice:

- The shadow bands

- The temperature change

- The colour of light

- Animals and plants reactions

- The diamond rings

- The corona

- The planets and stars around the totally eclipsed Sun.

My next post will be about what actually happened after 20 April.


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