eclipse My Solar Eclipse, 4 December 2002 eclipse


Serendipity can be a marvelous thing. I had planned to go to this eclipse for years. I had convinced my family to go with me, and had accommodation booked at Ceduna. Then meetings got re-scheduled, school plays got organised, and I was going by myself by bus. The day loomed closer, and I worriedly consulted the Bureau of Meteorology cloud forecast for the eclipse path. Days passed and cloud was still forecast for Ceduna. Then the day before I was due to catch the bus, my charming spouse was idly chatting to one of her Gym friends, to discover that she and her partner were driving up to Lyndhurst to see the eclipse. A few phone calls later, and I was off the bus and driving up to Lyndhurst with Steve and Beck and an inordinately large amount of telescope gear (but NOT the camera tripod).

eclipse image eclipse image The trip up passed quickly amidst animated discussion and poring over eclipse track maps. We spent the night on the farm of Steve and Beck's friend John. After further animated discussion on the veranda (and much wrestling with an ancient brass telescope that John had) while watching the stars glitter in an astonishingly clear sky, we turned in.

The day of the eclipse dawned clear and bright ... and cold and windy. Johns' farm is in the Flinders Ranges area, so the view from the veranda and kitchen window is pretty amazing. It certainly beats waking up in a caravan park! John turned on a great cooked breakfast for us and we convinced him to come with us on our expedition.

We were a bit uncertain about how many people were going to Lydhurst, and what the public viewing arrangements were, so we set off relatively early. After driving through some amazing scenery and poring over eclipse path maps again we arrived at Lyndhurst around 2.00 pm. We hadn't realised was the Lyndhurst (pop. 10) was also the scene of the outback rave festival that was accompanying the eclipse, so Lydnhurst had sprouted tent cities and stalls and such, and the street was jammed with Ferals and various alternative folk. The Lyndhurst pub was packed to capacity, so the likelihood of getting in and getting a drink before the eclipse started was minimal. We crawled out through the throbbing hubub that was Lyndhurst and headed out to the centre line of the eclipse which passed near the only notable elveated feature for many 10's of kilometers, the microwave tower. This is illustrated in the picture above right, along with the eclipse speed limit sign (they neglected to post what the speed limits were).

The "public" viewing area was a narrow stretch of dirt with a coke machine and portaloo ("are you here to see the eclipse?" enquired the bloke at the entrance). With kilometers of otherwise undistinguished gibber plain stretching in either direction, we though we could find a more private place. We finally decided on a spot called Ocher Cliffs. This is the site of the old Aboriginal ocher excavation and trading. The cliffs, although not particularly high, are a mass of spectacular color, and the view over the plains was likewise spectacular. With a mere 4 hours to go until the eclipse started, we (and the several dozen like-minded individuals who had also decided that Ocher cliffs was the place to be) looked at the cliffs, (the photo on the left shows some of the colours and structure in the rocks), ate lunch, had a few cups of tea, and waited.

At T minus one hour I picked a position on the cliff, and with the help of Steve, Becka and John set up my telescope. The wind was still blowing with some force, and blew over my telescope during setup. This was not a good sign, as my scope is not exactly light. By now the look-out was attracting quite a few people (see picture above right). There was a team from Hong Kong with very sensible small telescopes on short, sturdy and above all heavy tripods that were not being blown about as much. One bloke wanted his picture taken with the telescope. He didn't want to look through the telescope, he just wanted to be photographed with it.

First Contact! With a growing sense of excitement I call over Steve, Becka and John to have a look at the tiny sliver of darkness chipped form the Sun. I call over several of the other watchers to have a look too. I then set up the camera and try and take photos in the fleeting seconds the scope isn't being buffeted by the howling wind. Red dust is getting everywhere too as I try and swap lenses and attach the camera. During the next hour I take photos, swap to the observing lens, show people the shrinking disk of the sun, then swap back to the camera and try and take some photos in brief moments of calm. Half way through the light is noticibly dimmer and the air cooler.

Three quarters of the way into the eclipse, the landscape takes on an eerie light (see picture to the left) and we can now easily see cresent shaped shaows around objects (see picture to right). Excitement builds! I promise to tell people when to look with the unaided eye.

Almost eclipse time. Everyone marvells at the thin crescent of sun. The landscape is obviously darker. I attach the camera again as the cresecent shrinks to a thin line then the light level plunges dramatically. "Look now!" I yell, someone rings a bell and as if by magic the suns glare vanishes and the diamond ring appears for an instant, to cheers and acclamation. Then we have totality. The sun is gone, a black circle rimmed with pearly light takes its place, silence falls. I stare entranced for a couple of seconds then work feverishly to take of the filter and look through the telescope. A fine fuzz of pearly fire surrounds the blackness where the sun should be. Magic! I take a photo, and then look up ...

Going...
Shortly after first contact
Watch the sunspots!
Going... Going...
Going... Oh Oh!
Shutter speed drops below 1/10 of a second
wind vibration blurs the picture.
Gone
Howling winds vibrate the telescope
during totality. but you can still
see the coronal filaments

... and the diamond ring appears again, the the suns glare returns. Spontaneous cheers erupt. Our 28 seconds of totality is over.

Almost immediately most people pack up and go. Ourselves and the Hong Kong goup stay longer. A boy shows his video of the event to the remaining faithful. We are rewarded with the sight of the cresent Sun sinking below the horizon, a truely unique sight. We pack up and head back to the car, still stunned by what we have seen, only now does the impact begin to dawn on us.

We drive down to the Parachilna pub for dinner in silence, each with our thoughts and memories. Despite the almost Melbourne-like traffic jam and the lure of trance dancing in Lyndhurst, the pub is reached by 10.00 pm. We ravenously fall on the buffet, just before 4 busloads of astromomers pull in. We chat with the others and I get to chat with one of the senior editors of Sky&Telescope, who is leading a tour here. Tourists photograph the blackboard menu, as all the food here is Australian game (Emu pate, roast kangarro, saltbush sausages etc.). We then head back to the farm, where, despite being tired and covered in red dust, I drag out the telescope again, and do a tour of my favorite objects for the others. 47 Tucana, the Eta Carina complex, and to top it off, Saturn and Jupiter achingly, crystaline clear in these desert skies (of course the wind has died down). At 2.00 am, we stagger of to bed.

This eclipse had to be one of the best experiences I've had. I can see why people become hooked on them, and chase them all over the world. My totality shot didn't come out, but I SAW the eclipse, and that was fantastic. Next time I will apply these lessons I learnt. Antartica in 2003 anyone?

Technical guff. The eclipse was photographed on Kodak CMAX 400 colour print film via 2x Barlow projection (no-name Barlow lens) and a Pentax KM SLR camera body with T adaptor. The solar filter was a full apature Identi-View SVD 4.5 filter from Astro-Optical Supplies (thanks) fitted to a York Optical Skyrover 114 mm Newtonian reflector. Exposures ranged from 1/500 of a second (eclipse start) to 1/4 of a second (totality).


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Created: Monday, 9 December 2002, 11:22:32
Last Updated: Monday, 9 December 2002, 11:22:32