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The Dreamtime Eclipse: Australia 2012

Paul Kohlmiller


My wife and I were fortunate to be able to view the November 2012 eclipse as the path of the moon’s shadow traversed across northeast Australia. The skies were partly cloudy but our view of the event was clear. We were part of a tour (MWT Associates) and we were on Green Island, a small island not far from Cairns. This was our second total eclipse so we had some idea of what to expect. First, although totality lasted for more than 2 minutes, we knew that it would feel like 30 seconds or less. Sure enough, after taking a few photos, badly focused, I just put the camera down and watched the spectacle. The most amazing thing is how fast things change. From first contact to second contact it feels like everything is in slow motion. Then between 2nd and 3rd contact things seem to be constantly in motion.

The remainder of the tour took us to Alice Springs, Ayers Rock, Melbourne and Sydney. It also let us rub elbows with Seth Shostak (SETI Institute), David Levy (co-discoverer of Shoemaker/Levy 9), Dava Sobel (author of “Galileo’s Daughter”), Dennis Mammana (nationally syndicated columnist and noted astrophotographer), Rich Talcott (Senior Editor at Astronomy magazine) and Dave Eicher (Editor-in-chief at Astronomy).

David Levy provided one of the non-astronomical highlights. We visited the headquarters of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and we were given a short talk about what they do. The presenter asked if anyone had any questions or comments. Immediately David Levy jumped up and talked about the night when the Shoemakers were in a terrible traffic accident in a rural area of Australia. Eugene Shoemaker died but Carolyn Shoemaker survived almost certainly only because of the Flying Doctors. Suddenly a little side trip took on a special meaning. Later David told me he is working on his autobiography, the 38th book he has written.

Seth Shostak gave a talk to the tour group that concentrated on Australia. Later Seth, Mary and I were walking back to our hotel in the outback. We realized that the sky was relatively dark and we weren’t sure if we were seeing the Magellanic Clouds or just clouds. Seth later verified that it was the LMC and SMC. That same night David Levy set up his Questar and we looked at the Orion Nebula. It felt upside down.

During one of the 9 airflight legs of the trip, Mary and Dennis Mammana discussed dozens of episodes of “The Big Bang Theory”. I was complimenting Dava Sobel on “Galileo’s Daughter” which I knew of only because of the PBS series based on the book. She deflected praise about that series because she didn’t work on it. Overly modest methinks.

The tour also included a number of things that won’t make any sense to those reading this article. Like the bleachers we sat on to watch penguins come ashore; the crocodile zoo on Green Island; kangaroo, emu, camel and crocodile on the menu - as an appetizer; going to the most interesting building in Australia, the Sydney Opera House, and not being able to take pictures; checking out a “chair” made of sandstone; and eating a gourmet lunch on a tram (what we call light rail in San Jose) served by a waiter who sang opera - a good way to get a look at Melbourne.

But the eclipse was still the highlight. The corona looked fairly well balanced and there was a prominent “diamond ring” at both 2nd and 3rd contact. I didn’t think the Baily Beads phenomenon was particularly noticeable. It was over far too soon.


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