Fig 4.1

The eclipse across northern Australia

The path of totality for the eclipse of 14 November 2012 is shown in figure 4-1. It starts at sunrise in the Northern Territory east of Darwin and then travels across the Gulf of Carpentaria and over Cape York. Here, the path is about 140 km wide and the Moon’s shadow will be traveling at about 15 000 kilometres per hour. It crosses the east coast of Cape York in the Cairns and Port Douglas region. The shadow then passes out over the South Pacific Ocean travelling to the north of New Zealand, making no further landfall.

The partial eclipse

Figure 4-1 also shows how the partial eclipse will appear at maximum coverage of the Sun at selected locations outside the path of totality. The amount of maximum coverage depends mainly on the distance of the location from the path of totality. A partial solar eclipse will occur over the whole of Australia.

The partial eclipse presents opportunities for students to practice scientific investigation, observation and understanding by such activities as research of the timing of the partial phases of the eclipse for their location, observing, recording and documenting the event and comparing their observations to predictions.

Table 4-1 lists the start time of the partial eclipse, time of maximum and end of the partial eclipse as well as the maximum eclipse magnitude (the maximum percent of the Sun’s diameter covered) for selected locations throughout Queensland not in the path of the total solar eclipse. Times are in Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC + 10 hours).

Table 4-1 Partial eclipse timing – selected locations across Queensland

Location

Start

Partial

h:m am

1st contact

Time of

max eclipse

h:m (am)

 

Max. Magnitude

(max cover of

Sun’s diameter)

 

End

Partial

h:m (am)

4th contact

Sun

Elevation

(at max)

in º

Brisbane

5:56

6:54

83%

7:59

26º

Bundaberg

5:53

6:51

89%

7:55

24º

Charleville

5:56

6:51

78%

7:51

19º

Charters Towers

5:48

6:43

94%

7:44

16º

Cooktown

5:44

6:38

99%

7:38

13º

Coolangatta

5:57

6:56

82%

8:00

27º

Dalby

5:56

6:53

82%

7:57

24º

Gladstone

5:51

6:49

90%

7:53

23º

Gympie

5:55

6:52

86%

7:57

25º

Ipswich

5:57

6:54

83%

7:59

26º

Longreach

5:52

6:47

83%

7:46

16º

Mackay

5:48

6:45

94%

7:48

19º

Maryborough

5:54

6:52

88%

7:56

25º

Mount Isa

  5:51*

6:43

85%

7:41

10º

Noosa

5:55

6:53

86%

7:58

26º

Rockhampton

5:51

6:48

90%

7:52

22º

Roma

5:56

6:52

81%

7:53

22º

Toowoomba

5:57

6:54

82%

7:58

25º

Townsville

5:47

6:42

96%

7:43

16º

Tully

5:46

6:41

99%

7:42

15º

Weipa

  5:42*

6:35

95%

7:34

08º

                                           (* = before sunrise)

The total eclipse in north Queensland

Figure 4-2 shows the path of totality across Cape York. The green lines show the predicted duration of totality and the orange lines are the approximate times of mid total eclipse across the eclipse path. To observe the total solar eclipse you must be in the path of totality. The total eclipse will be seen from the major centres of Cairns, Atherton, Mareeba, Mossman and Port Douglas and the northern part of Innisfail.

Fig 4.2

Table 4-2 lists the approx. time, duration and elevation of the Sun for the total eclipse and the start and end of the partial phases of the eclipse for selected locations. Times are in Australian Eastern Standard Time (UTC + 10hrs).

Table 4-2 Total Solar eclipse timing – selected locations in the path of totality

Location

Start

Partial

h:m (am)

 1st contact

Start

Totality

h:m:s (am)

 2nd contact

Duration

of

Totality

 

 

End

Partial

h:m (am)

 4th contact

Sun

Elevation

(at total)

Atherton

5:45

6:39:34

0min 30sec

7:41

14º

Babinda

5:45

6:39:22

1min 18sec

7:41

14º

Cairns CBD

5:45

6:38:33

1min 58sec

7:40

14º

Daintree

5:44

6:37:52

1min 55sec

7:39

13º

Gordonvale

5:45

6:38:50

1min 47sec

7:41

14º

Innisfail CBD

5:45

6:40:02

0min 16sec

7:41

15º

Kuranda

5:45

6:38:10

2min 01sec

7:40

13º

Kowanyama

  5:45*

6:37:07

1min 35sec

7:37

10º

Lakeland

5:44

6:37:37

1min 30sec

7:39

13º

Laura

  5:44*

6:37:32

0min 57sec

7:38

12º

Mareeba

5:45

6:38:45

1min 40sec

7:40

14º

Mossman

5:44

6:38:00

2min 03sec

7:40

13º

Mount Molloy

5:45

6:38:15

1min 59sec

7:40

14º

Palm Cove

5:45

6:38:20

2min 02sec

7:40

14º

Pormpuraaw 

  5:44*

6:36:26

1min 54sec

7:36 

  9º

Port Douglas

5:44

6:38:02

2min 03sec

7:40

14º

Wujal Wujal 

5:44

6:37:55

1min 07sec

7:39 

13º

Yarrabah 

5:45

6:38:34

2min 00sec 

7:40 

14º

                                     (* = before sunrise)

The exact time of the start of the total eclipse will depend on the location. It will start at about 6:37 am on the west coast of Cape York and at about 6:38 or 6:39 am on the east coast. Locations closer to the centreline of the path of totality will have a longer total eclipse. The total eclipse duration will also increase towards the east coast. The maximum duration on the Australian mainland is about 2 minutes and 4 seconds at the point where the centre of the path crosses the east coast just south of Port Douglas.

Fig 4.3

Stars and planets during the eclipse

During the total part of the eclipse the sky becomes so dark that some planets and the brightest stars usually become visible. At the time of the eclipse, the planets Venus and Saturn will be higher in the sky than the Sun, while Mercury will be between the Sun and the horizon. These planets and the Sun with the Moon will form a line. This is because all the planets are in approximately the same plane as they orbit the Sun. During a total solar eclipse is the only time that this can be seen in this way. It may be possible to see the bright stars Sirius and Canopus as well as the stars of the Southern Cross. See figure 4-3 for a whole sky view at the time of the eclipse.

Where to observe the total eclipse from

Whether you live in the path of the total eclipse, or are going to visit the region, there are some things to consider concerning from where to observe the eclipse.

Outlook: The eclipse occurs early in the morning when the Sun will be low in the east. If you live in the path of totality check to see if you will be able to see the Sun at the time of the eclipse from your location by checking where the Sun is at eclipse time in the days before the eclipse.

Table 4-2 shows the elevation above the horizon of the Sun at the time of the eclipse - generally above 10 degrees. A good way to measure 10 degrees is to use your fist. Have your arm outstretched with the fist vertical and the thumb to the top. If you line up the bottom of your fist with the horizon then your thumb will be at about 10 degrees.

The Sun will rise a little south of east so check that you have a clear view in that direction. It will also help to experience the eclipse if you have a good view all around so that you can see the dark sky with the sunset colours around the horizon. If you have a view to the west you may be able to see the Moon’s shadow approaching just before the total eclipse. A beach location that faces east with a clear view may offer a good view of the eclipse as the Sun will rise over the ocean and as long as there are no clouds you may be able to see the partial phases before the total eclipse. But you may not see the all round sunset or the approaching shadow. If you do go to the beach, be wary of the tide. The tide will be incoming on the morning of the eclipse (high tide is about 9:00 am).

Duration of the total eclipse: Table 4-2 lists the duration of the total eclipse which depends on where you are in the shadow path. Locations towards the centreline of the shadow path will have a longer duration. Locations closer to the edge will have a shorter duration. Anywhere on the east coast between Wonga Beach and Cairns will experience an eclipse of about two minutes. In contrast, go closer to the edges of the track to improve the view of Baily’s beads and other transitional effects.

Weather: The eclipse occurs at the start of the north Queensland wet season. There is risk of cloud. Onshore breezes may result in cloud buildup to the east of the coastal ranges. However, with the eclipse in the early morning, skies may be clearer. Depending on the weather pattern at the time, the sky may be clearer to the west of the coastal ranges.

Access: There is very good road access to most of the east coast areas. The western part of the eclipse track has no highways and the tracks are generally only suitable for 4 wheel drive vehicles and are often impassable in the wet. Before venturing off the highways, check road conditions and only travel with local knowledge and in a suitable vehicle carrying appropriate emergency supplies navigation and communications equipment.

Facilities: You may want to be near where you can obtain facilities such as food and drink and toilets. The local authorities may set up public viewing areas with these facilities for the many expected visitors.

Observing the eclipse

A solar eclipse offers students a unique opportunity to see a fascinating natural phenomenon that illustrates the basic principles of mathematics and science taught through primary and secondary school. Indeed, many scientists (including astronomers) have been inspired to study science as a result of seeing a total solar eclipse. Teachers can use eclipses to show how the laws of motion and the mathematics of orbits can predict the occurrence of eclipses. The use of pinhole cameras and projection using telescopes or binoculars to observe an eclipse leads to an understanding of the optics of these devices. The rise and fall of ambient light levels and the changing colours during an eclipse illustrate the principles of light transmission, radiometry and photometry, while biology classes can observe the associated behavior of plants and animals. It is also an opportunity for children of school age to practice scientific research, observation and understanding by such activities as research of the circumstances of the eclipse, watching for and recording each of the various phenomena of the total eclipse and documenting these activities.

See How to Observe the Sun Safely for information on how to observe the eclipse safely.

Past and future eclipses

Total solar eclipses occur somewhere in the world on average about every 18 months. Because each total solar eclipse occurs on such a narrow path, a total eclipse for any specific location on Earth only occurs on average about every 350 to 400 years but this period varies widely.

The last total solar eclipse to occur in Queensland was in 2002 but the shadow path only reached into the far south western corner of the state. The total eclipse in Queensland prior to that was on 21 September 1922 when the shadow path traversed the southern part of the state near the border with NSW. The last total solar eclipse at the location of Cairns was in the year 710.

The next total solar eclipses to occur in Queensland after 2012 will be in 2028 and 2030. The next eclipse in north Queensland will be in 2077.

The next total solar eclipses anywhere in the world will be in November 2013 across Africa, in March 2015 in the Arctic, March 2016 in Indonesia and in August 2017 through USA.

Figures 4-4 and 4-5 show the path of totality of all total solar eclipses in Queensland for the last 100 years and for the next 100 years. There are websites that allow you to explore where total solar eclipses have occurred for many years into the past and into the future. See Activity 09 and useful websites.

Fig 4.4

Fig 4.5

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