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Cairns 2012

I was in Cairns for the 2012 total solar eclipse on November 14th. I arrived late on the 12th and flew home on the morning of the 15th. Leading up to the 14th, I stayed with AAVSO staff member and friend, Sara Beck, her husband John and their eclipse chasing friends.

We were located at Clifton Beach about 30 minutes north of Cairns.

Sara and John, both very keen eclipse chasers, decided to go inland for the best view possible. Being less of diehard, I stayed put and still had an excellent view from the beach. My first 2 minutes of totality at around 6:38am is something I won’t forget in a hurry.

What stays with me is the simultaneous corona and pink/orange prominences that became obvious to the unaided eye as soon as totality began, at 6 o’clock on the disk, later at around 10 o’clock and elsewhere. Rob Kaufman’s image below shows prominences even during the diamond ring effect. Rob is another AAVSO member, from Bright, Victoria.

Image of 2012 Cairns total solar eclipse by Rob Kaufman

The quality of the light leading up to totality was surreal.

The size of the disk took me by surprise; I thought it would appear smaller. I assume that the apparently large disk size was an elevation effect, the same one that gives the illusion that the moon is larger when it appears on the horizon than when it is closer to zenith.

The cloud was a bit of a worry leading up to totality, but it worked out well in the end. The disk went into cloud a few seconds before totality ended but it was visible most of the time.

The other motivation for making the trip was to meet Sara Beck, my VStar collaborator at AAVSO since mid-2009. It was great to meet up with her finally. We had some good chats.

On the last night I had a beer with AAVSO Director, Arne Henden, and Andrew Pearce, a Long Period Variable observer from WA. We had an enjoyable conversation about the eclipse, visual variable estimates, future directions for VStar and other AAVSO Java applications.

I had a good look around Cairns while there. It’s a very tourist-oriented place, but nice enough. Next time I get up that way I’ll be sure to spend some time out on the reef.

I cannot claim that witnessing this event has filled me with a sudden compulsion to chase every total solar eclipse I can get to, but my wife Karen and I are already talking about the next one visible from Australia, in 2023 from Exmouth in remote WA.

I can honestly say that it was an awesome spectacle, different to any other astronomical event I’ve witnessed. But that’s the cool thing about astronomy: the diversity of observable phenomena.

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