On the road: Australia eclipse trip, eclipse day

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Wednesday, November 14, 2012

This may not look like the greatest eclipse day weather, but our group saw a good portion of totality. The bright point among the clouds is Venus. // all photos by Michael and Holley Bakich
The big day arrived for the Astronomical Tours group with the same tension that grips a rookie NFL player in his first Super Bowl. In four days of touring Australia, we'd seen lots of clouds and numerous short but soaking rain showers. Such events tend to dishearten eclipse-chasers. But I maintained a positive attitude, and I think it helped our group's outlook. Between you and me, I never doubted that we'd see it.

We left our hotel at 3:30 a.m., headed for Bramston Beach. The night before, Jen Winter and Fred Brunges from Astronomical Tours spent hours poring over weather forecasts and online satellite maps. In the end, they came to the same conclusion they'd reached more than a year ago.

The drive took a bit more than an hour, which left us an hour and a half to set up. Several people in our group had brought telescopes, and it seemed nearly everyone was intent on photographing the spectacle. Well, everybody but me and my wife, Holley. This is her sixth total solar eclipse (and my 13th), and even though I'm Astronomy's photo editor, I've never taken a shot during totality. The last thing I want to do is look down or through a camera's viewfinder.

First contact, the initial "bite" of the Moon out of the Sun's disk, occurred shortly after sunrise. Clouds floated everywhere, but our view of the eclipse was mostly clear. Five minutes before totality, I spotted Venus above and to the left of the Sun, and I yelled out its location. Three minutes before totality, we all saw shadow bands, the evanescent feature that occurs when the solar disk shrinks to a sliver. And these bands were great — the best I've ever seen.

Jen Winter and Fred Brunges from Astronomical Tours are hard at work setting up before the eclipse while other group members mill about.
As totality approached, darkness enshrouded us and the famous call announcing the start of totality went out: diamond ring! Filters came off telescopes, binoculars, and cameras, and shutters started clicking. At the ring's appearance, Holley and I switched from filtered naked-eye view to binoculars. We saw Baily's beads, prominences (including two huge ones), and the corona. Unfortunately, a cloud then moved across the Sun, and it didn't move away until most of the total phase was gone. Just before totality ended, however, we did see some different prominences, Baily's beads on the Moon's other side, and the second diamond ring.

Then light began to return to the Australian coast, and we started buzzing. It wasn't perfect, but all judged it a rousing success. Had this been any other day, we may as well have slept in.

We'll feature some of the best eclipse images in an upcoming issue of Astronomy. (You can share yours in the Sun and Moon area at www.Astronomy.com/readergallery or send them directly to me at readergallery@astronomy.com.) Next, our group heads to magnificent Ayers Rock in this country's interior. It's clearer there, so I'm certain I'll have some nighttime observing to tell you about. The Southern Cross, the Eta Carinae Nebula, the Magellanic Clouds, and a lot more celestial treats still await our collective gaze.

And now that we've seen the eclipse, we can relax and enjoy them.

To so all the pictures from my trip, visit the Trips & Tours area at www.Astronomy.com/readergallery.

Related blogs:
On the road: Australia eclipse trip, days 3 and 4
On the road: Australia eclipse trip, day 1

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