Make the Eclipse Your Own
The total eclipse in Cairns in 2012 will always be "My Eclipse". It was my first total eclipse and it was stunning.
The image above is the best image I could get from my location. It's not very good, but it is a fine reminder of unexpected beauty of a total eclipse.
We got up early. Really early. The eclipse was due to start at 6:30 I recall. It was November and Cairns is in the tropics so the weather outside was warm and humid. We got up at 4:30, intending to miss the traffic. Well there was no traffic and we arrived at our viewing site over and hour and a half early. It was a long wait.
There were other around. Those who wanted to get the best vantage. Those, like us, who had expected long delays on the roads, and others who were just early risers.
The clouds threatened. Cloud had been predicted and we just had to hope for the best. The sunrise was spectacular, mainly due to the clouds, and probably due to the anticipation. The star of our show had entered the stage.
We met friends, walked along the beach, willed the clouds away.
At first contact, when the moon first crosses the edge of the Sun, until last contact, when the moon disappears into the bright sky again, we were amazed and thrilled to be watching this uncommon cosmic show.
There were moments. Baileys beads, totality, the world going dark and quiet in the daytime. There were clouds, brushing across our eclipse like spider webs. In some ways they made each view, each glimpse more like treasure.
The day brightened and the world returned to normal. We had been in a special place, a tiny part of the world, having shared the opportunity to see a spectacular event.
To say it was a privilege is to imply that we were granted something, that someone was kind enough to let us be here to view, but the moon orbits the earth, which orbits the sun and eclipses have gone on for millions of years without me. The privilege was that we had the means and opportunity to be there, that humans, through science, have understood the mechanisms, the timings and the geography of three orbiting objects and are able to predict the event. The privilege is that science can tell me what I am looking at, why Bailey's beads shine as they do and how the corona glows in the daytime sky. It Is not magic, it is science. It is understood.
There are those who inject mystery into celestial events like this. There is mystery, in how it changes us, not physically, but how it connects us with the cosmos, how it places us in a time and place in the universe where objects in space align. It is an incredibly beautiful event.
An eclipse creates eclipse chasers. A friend of mine has been to eclipses all over the world, ever since the first one he saw. This isn't possible for everyone, instead the first one becomes your eclipse. The one you saw and the one that makes you want to see more.
Having seen an eclipse, and wanting to see more, here is my advice:
- Understand what makes a safe eclipse. You can only look at the sun without protection during totality. Never look at the sun if you are not in the totality area, and never before or after totality. The sun will damage your eyesight and you may never see another eclipse again.
- Understand what is happening. Science actually adds to the wonder. It more beautiful when you know the mechanics, and anticipate the moments in the timeline of an eclipse.
- Record it if you can. Your images might be better than mine. Even a mobile phone image is better than nothing. Don't obsess over it though. There will be a million pictures posted and many of those will be extraordinary.
- Remember that it might be cloudy. Just a few km down the coast from us the whole eclipse was clouded out. But it is still an experience. Notice the darkness approaching, this is the shadow of the moon. Notice that the birds and insects stop, as though night has come. Experience a different daybreak as the shadow moves across and away from you.
- If you can't get to see totality, then enjoy the partial eclipse if you can. Seeing the sun as a crescent is also amazing.
And when you get home, learn more. Embrace astronomy, discover your place in the cosmos by discovering the cosmos. Plan to get to your next eclipse. Enjoy the stories of this one.
Total Solar Eclipses are amazing. They are events of orbital coincidence. They teach us about the sun and they connect humanity with our own star. Make this one your own.
And for those of us far away from the line of totality. We will enjoy the eclipse through you. This will be the most televised and reported on eclipse in the history of humanity. It's not my eclipse, but I'll enjoy yours.