On the road: The Great Australian Dreamtime Eclipse, Days 5-7

Posted by David Eicher
on Monday, November 12, 2012

SETI astronomer Seth Shostak delivers his talk at Cairns, Queensland, Australia, November 11, 2012. // Credit: David J. Eicher
When I left you from the last blog, it was Friday and we were just getting ready to explore the great city of Sydney, in Australia’s south. What a fantastic city Sydney was. The 200 amateur astronomers traveling along with Astronomy magazine’s group zipped around the city and enjoyed seeing its famous sights, nearly everyone wishing we had more time there. From our lovely Grace Hotel in the city’s center, we explored Sydney Harbour with a lengthy cruise, viewing the many important areas of the city and celebrated buildings. We also had a motorcoach tour of the city and explored its many neighborhoods, regions, and spectacular views. We then walked along the waterfront to our appointment at the famous Sydney Opera House, where we had a thorough tour of the city’s most famous feature. This, after passing under and around the city’s other most celebrated symbol, the Harbour Bridge. The restaurants and attractions in Sydney were incredible, and this largest city in the country left a lasting mark as a very cool place that would be fun to return to. It was especially strange for us to have come from Ayers Rock, with virtually no one around, the day before, to the most populated area of the continent the next day. What a study in contrasts!

Before we left Sydney, I was privileged to give my talk, “Astronomy’s New Frontier,” to the group. In a lovely meeting room in the Grace, we discussed black holes, planetary missions, space telescopes, the age and size of the universe, interstellar travel, extrasolar planet discoveries, and much more. It was an invigorating hour.

Our group explores the tropical rainforest near Daintree, Queensland, Australia, November 11, 2012. // Credit: David J. Eicher
The group then departed for the airport and took to the air once again, this time to Cairns, the northeastern city in Queensland, where we will see the eclipse this coming Wednesday, November 14. A fancy reception and dinner united all of our tour groups, which were on separate agendas, into one big group. Old friends stopped by one after the other and caught up on all sorts of happenings. David Levy was there, as well as Dava Sobel, Seth Shostak, Dennis Mammana, and many more friends and fellow travelers from the past. Following dinner, Seth gave us his very entertaining talk on detecting extrasolar intelligence and what it might mean, and how our civilization might handle it. I tell you, if you ever have the chance to hear Seth Shostak speak, you simply need to do it. He is absolutely superb — and very funny.

Today our group headed on a three-part adventure north of Cairns. We first took a morning cruise by flatboat on the Daintree River and encountered multiple crocodiles, including a well-identified female and an infant no more than a foot-and-a-half long. We also found “Scarface,” a 20-foot alpha-male who dominates that stretch of the river, and he smacked the water to warn our boat before trailing us, staying behind our boat and following us for more than a mile. It was a very strange and eerie experience.

We then hiked through the Queensland tropical rainforest (yes, rainforest!) near Daintree to a spectacular waterfall, seeing numerous critters, plants, trees, and many other aspects of nature. Lastly, armed with spears and aided by local Aborigines, we waded at low tide into the edge of the Coral Sea north of Cairns, and went hunting for mud crabs and other creatures for several hours. The whole affair — our own “Astronomy Survivor” escapade — ended with cooking lots of crabs, clams, mussels, and many other sea creatures and having a snack dinner bedside the sea. What an incredible pleasure.

It’s now late Monday night, November 12, in Australia, and we have less than two days to the eclipse. We’ll head out to snorkel and dive in the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow, and then cross our fingers for clear skies. Stay tuned . . .

And be sure to check out all of the images from this trip at www.Astronomy.com/DreamtimeTotalEclipse.

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