Clouds part for 2012 solar eclipse in Queensland

By AAP with AG staff 14 November 2012
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The clouds in far-north Queensland parted just in time for a view of the total solar eclipse.

PARTS OF NORTHERN AUSTRALIA were plunged into total darkness when a total eclipse descended early on Wednesday morning.

For two minutes, shortly before 6am (AEST), north Queensland went from day to night as the moon crossed between Earth and the Sun. It was the first full solar eclipse visible from Australia since 2002 – and that was only in the nation’s south.

About 60,000 people travelled to Cairns and parts north to watch the solar spectacle. Hot air balloons full of astronomy lovers dotted north Queensland’s skies. Thousands of spectators screamed in awe as they witnessed the eclipse.

Dr Stuart Ryder, from the Australian Astronomical Observatory, said it took the moon about an hour to pass from first contact, when it begins to cross the sun’s path, to totality, when the sun is completely obscured.

During those few minutes of totality, it looks like a moonlit night.

2012 solar eclipse a spiritual event

Indigenous astronomy expert Duane Hamacher was up on a hilltop near the Cairns Airport to watch the celestial spectacle.

“This is spectacular,” Duane said.

Many indigenous groups, including in Arnhem Land were watching the event which has deep spiritual meaning for them.

“Most Aboriginal cultures believe the sun is female and the moon is male,” Duane said. “Some believe the sun is in love with the man but he does not reciprocate these feelings so the sun chases him around the sky. On rare occasions, she manages to grab him and in a jealous rage tries to kill him but he convinces the spirits that hold up the sky to save him, which they do.”

Wildlife reactions to solar eclipse

Spectator Ben Woodward from Cairns Wildlife Dome said the temperature dropped, the sky went darker and birds went quiet when the eclipse reached totality.

“It was an eerie feeling and the temperature dropped but the sky didn’t go completely dark. It looked like dusk,” he said. “The view was obstructed by a large cloud but there were moments where you could see the eclipse occurring.”

Many cameras had been positioned in the wildlife park to record how the animals reacted, he added. “Several wildlife keepers have said a lot of the birds fell asleep.”

The next solar eclipse to be visible from Australia is expected in May 2013, but it will only be an annular eclipse (where the sun is still visible around the edges of the moon).