Total Solar Eclipse to Wow Australia, South Pacific
For the second time this year, the moon will eclipse the sun. But unlike the annular eclipse of May 20—when the sun's edge appeared like a fiery ring around the black disk of the moon—the upcoming November 13 to 14 event will be a total eclipse, with Luna completely obliterating Sol.
The total blockage will only be visible from land in a small part of northern Australia, according to Space.com. The moon’s shadow will yield a partial eclipse over a much larger area in the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, southern South America and part of Antarctica. Most of the totality will be over open water.
“The central eclipse path begins in Australia’s Garig Gunak Barlu National Park in the Northern Territory about 250 kilometers east of Darwin at 20:35 UT [Universal Time],” according to NASA. “Traveling southeast, the umbral shadow quickly crosses the Gulf of Carpentaria and reaches the Cape York Peninsula at 20:37 UT.”
The east coast of Queensland, known as the gateway to the country’s famed Great Barrier Reef, is also the gateway to viewing this eclipse from land, NASA said. The place to be is the city of Cairns, 18 miles south of the central eclipse line.
“Its residents and visitors will enjoy an early-morning total eclipse lasting two minutes with the sun just 14 degrees above the eastern horizon,” NASA said. “Observers on the central line can eke out another five seconds of totality, but local weather conditions will play a far greater role in choosing a viewing site than a few seconds of totality.”
This is the first total solar eclipse over Cairns in 1,302 years, according to Duane Hamacher, a lecturer at the indigenous studies center at the University of New South Wales. His comprehensive research into aboriginal astronomical knowledge makes him one of the few acknowledged authorities on the subject.
“In most aboriginal cultures, the sun is female and the moon is male,” Hamacher wrote on the blog Australian Aboriginal Astronomy, which he created in order to share his knowledge. “While the specific details vary between groups, many aboriginal communities describe a dynamic between the sun and moon, typically involving one pursuing the other across the sky from day to day, occasionally meeting during an eclipse.”
In a 2011 paper in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, Hamacher recounted surveying 50 Australian aboriginal accounts of solar and lunar eclipses to assess how the cultures assimilated these occurrences. He found that as they did with comets and meteors, peoples in these cultures viewed eclipses negatively: “They could be a sign of a terrible calamity, an omen of death and disease, or a sign that someone was working black magic.”
He cited accounts of colonists who noted the fear and anxiety among aboriginal people over a solar eclipse. “One colonist noted seeing aboriginal people run under the cover of bushes in a fearful panic upon a solar eclipse,” he wrote. “The Mandjindja people of South Australia called an eclipse of the sun on 30 July 1916 ‘Tindu korari’ and were struck with great fear at first, but were relieved when the eclipse passed with no harm having come to anyone.”
This is similar to the experiences of traditional Navajo, many of whom stayed inside during the May 20 annular solar eclipse, which cut directly across the Navajo Nation. Though many did not watch, others did through special glasses at eclipse-viewing parties held all along and near the path of totality.
Festivities are also planned for the upcoming Pacific eclipse. From November 12 through 15, the Gurruwiling Eclipse Festival, named after the largest wetland in the Southern Hemisphere, promises live music, cultural workshops and traditional-dance classes.
Hamacher himself will speak at another event, the five-day Student Solar Eclipse Excursion, with Nobel laureate astronomer Brian Schmidt. Schmidt will discuss the expanding universe and explain eclipses in detail, while Hamacher will provide knowledge about traditional Native astronomy.