Our Eclipse Group at Work


Nothing could be farther from an astrophoto than this, but this is what it takes to get a great shot – planning!

Here is our little group of Canadian eclipse chasers sitting around the patio table planning alternate viewing sites that we had inspected earlier that day on the Monday, two days before the eclipse. Maps, photos and weather forecasts all go into the mix to make a decision where best to be for the total eclipse of the Sun.

We found some good inland sites but getting to those would require leaving the comforts of home the afternoon before the eclipse to be in place for dawn on Wednesday and avoid driving the roo and cattle infested outback roads at night. We would prefer to stay on the beach, and weather prospects are improving. But if the eclipse had been this morning we would not have seen it from this location.

– Alan, November 13, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Sign on the Centreline


I’m in eclipse country here, as the sign proclaims, just about on the centreline of the coming Moon’s shadow.

Today we drove 3 to 4 hours out onto what is called the Development Road or the Mulligan Highway, inland from the beaches where we are staying. This is the road that goes up to Cooktown (where Captain James Cook beached the Endeavour in 1770) from Port Douglas, but via the inland route. As you can see it is dry! That’s a good thing. While the coast was cloudy and rainy today, Monday, the inland sites we inspected were sunny, with word from the locals that the morning at eclipse time was perfectly clear. As it always is they promised us!

So we have some Plan B sites selected, and checked out with the local Queensland Police to make sure we’re OK to use them. However, weather forecasts for Wednesday morning at eclipse time are promising clear skies on the coast where we would prefer to stay in convenient comfort.

Not far from here, near the Palmer River Roadhouse, some 8,000 people have gathered in the dusty Outback for a festival of music and “new age healing.” We’re seeing lots of the participants on the road (often driving beat-up vans) looking like they’ve been transported by time machine from the 1960s and Woodstock. Eclipses attract many people of all interests to the track of the Moon’s shadow. Good luck to them … and us, two days from now.

– Alan, November 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Two Days to Go Until the Eclipse


This was the sky at eclipse time, two days prior to the total eclipse of the Sun.

Had the eclipse been today we likely would have missed it. The Sun broke through briefly but minutes later the rain seen here off shore was over us. But a few minutes later it was clear and sunny again. It will be a game of chance to be sure.

Today, we travel inland to scout out viewing sites 3 hours away over the Dividing Range on the Development Road as a Plan B.

– Alan, November 12, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

On the Beach — Stargazing


This is stargazing in the tropics — on the beach, in shorts and sandals.

Here’s some of our eclipse chasing group enjoying a view of the southern hemisphere night sky, albeit though clouds. Jupiter is the bright object at left, Orion is rising on his side in the middle, Sirius is just above our stargazers, while Canopus is at far right. The Pleiades is at far left. We’re looking east, from a latitude of 16° south of the equator, where the sky takes on a completely new appearance that baffles and delights even seasoned northern stargazers.

– Alan, November 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Three Days to Go Until the Eclipse


Skies and spirits brightened this morning as we were greeted to a wonderfully clear sunrise.

I took this moments ago on the morning of Sunday, November 11, three days before the total eclipse. If the eclipse had been this morning we would have seen it in grand style.

Nevertheless, we will continue our scouting of inland locations over the Dividing Range, at sites some 2 to 3 hours drive away. If the weather forecast looks gloomy the day before we will make a run for it inland but will have to make that call the afternoon before the eclipse to avoid driving in the dark with roos on the road. The eclipse happens an hour after sunrise on Wednesday, with the Sun a little higher than its position here. Ideally, we watch the eclipse from where I took this photo! But one must always have a Plan B and C in pocket.

– Alan, November 11, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Four Days to Go Until the Eclipse


 

This is sunrise, four days before the November 14 total eclipse of the Sun, from our preferred viewing site on the coast of Queensland, Australia.

In four days, the Moon, which you can see as a waning crescent at upper left, will pass across the face of the Sun.

We’re here at our Beach House at Oak Beach, just south of Port Douglas, right on the eclipse centreline. The site is fantastic and we may have the beach pretty much to ourselves, or at least just for the residents of the beach houses long Oak Beach Road. However, the clouds are worrying. A system moving through is blanketing the area in cloud but promises to move off by eclipse morning. The total eclipse occurs about an hour after sunrise. So this is the view we’ll have, though we have a kilometre of beach to pick from.

However, we just spent one of several days scouting out alternative Plan B sites along the coast and inland. Mobility is often the key to success when chasing eclipses. It is a chase after all, and being able to see an eclipse right from your front yard (or in our case, front beach) is always the ideal plan. But plans often change.

There are lots of eclipse chasers here — about 40,000 have converged on Port Douglas area, which even at peak tourist season (which it is not now) handles only 10,000 people at a given time.

– Alan, November 10, 2012 / © @ 2012 Alan Dyer

 

Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn


Today on my drive north to the path of the November 14 total eclipse in Australia, I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and am now officially in the tropics.

This is one of the many monuments that the demarcates this important line around the world, all located at 23.5° south latitude (or thereabouts). This one is in Rockhampton, Queensland. It’s actually at 23° 23′ 59″ S but that’s close enough for tourists. For photos of other Tropic of Capricorn monuments see Wikipedia’s page.

The Tropic of Capricorn is one of the world’s four main lines of latitude defined by the tilt of the Earth: The Arctic and Antarctic Circles at 66.5° N and S, and the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, at 23.5° N and S. The names for the Tropic lines come from the two constellations where the Sun used to be located millennia ago on the June and December solstices: Cancer and Capricornus. The precession motion of the Earth’s axis has since moved the Sun into Gemini and Sagittarius on those key annual dates.

The Tropic of Capricorn is the southernmost latitude on our planet where the Sun can appear directly overhead at the zenith, and then only on one day, the December solstice. I was here close to that date a few years ago and can attest to the lack of shadows at “high noon” at solstice on a Tropic line.

The zone on Earth between the two Tropic lines, between 23.5° N and 23.5° S, is of course called the Tropics. While the Sun may not always be overhead in the tropics it certainly is always high at mid-day. And hot!

Next stop: Magnetic Island, named by James Cook in 1770 as he thought the island was affecting his compass in strange ways.

– Alan, November 6, 2012 / © 2012 Alan Dyer