Mar/Apr 2002 Table of Contents
eclipse of the Sun is arguably the most awesome sight in all of
nature. Day is suddenly replaced with an eerie twilight and the
Suns brilliant disk is blocked by the dark Moon. Only then
is the Suns glorious corona revealed to all. This incredible
spectacle is visible once every year or two when the Moons
small dark umbral shadow races across our planets surface.
The ensuing path of totality is typically about 150 kilometers wide
but can stretch halfway around the globe. A partial eclipse may
be seen from a large fraction of Earth, but only those lucky enough
to be within the umbras track will witness the corona and
next total eclipse occurs on December 4, 2002. The path of the Moons
shadow begins in the South Atlantic and sweeps across southern Africa.
This is the beginning of the path, so the eclipse occurs in the
early morning shortly after sunrise. Although December is the start
of southern Africas rainy season, the weather prospects are
reasonably good. Weather data suggest a 50% to 60% probability of
clear skies during totality, especially along the path covering
Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Mozambique. In this region, the total
eclipse will last nearly a minute and a half with the Sun high in
the eastern sky.
leaving Africa, the Moons shadow will spend the next two-and-a-half
hours racing across empty sea in the Indian Ocean. During the last
two minutes of its trajectory, the eclipse shadow finally encounters
southern Australia. The coastal town of Ceduna lies at the center
of the path, where totality lasts a mere 33 seconds. Because of
their brevity, short total eclipses offer exceptional opportunities
to view the diamond ring and Bailys beads. These sparkling
jewels of sunlight are seen along the edge of the Moons disk
just as totality begins and ends. They are caused by high mountains
on the Moon, which break the Suns crescent into a string of
brilliant beads that quickly vanish.
the Australian section of the path, the eclipse takes place in the
late afternoon just minutes before sunset. The totally eclipsed
Sun stands 9° above the western horizon from Ceduna. Traveling
with a ground speed of over 2,000 kilometers per hour, the shadow
quickly moves northeast into the interior. Here a number of small
towns lie within its path, including Wirraminna, Coondambo, and
Purple Downs. Totality lasts 30 seconds in the region with the Sun
6° high. As it nears the end of its path, the Moons shadow
brings totality to the Outback towns of Lyndhurst, Fort Grey, and
Tickalara. Beyond this point, the shadow returns to space and the
total eclipse ends.
you might expect, Australias Outback offers the best weather
prospects along the entire eclipse track. Satellite images and climate
statistics indicate a 70% chance for clear sky during the eclipse.
This optimistic probability must be tempered with the understanding
that the Suns low altitude will magnify the effects of even
a small amount of cloudiness. Eclipse chasers are likely to encounter
late afternoon temperatures of over 40° C (100° F) in
the Outback, with the possible threat of dusty whirlwinds. Ceduna
offers relief from the high temperatures, but at a cost, because
the coast is prone to strong, gusty winds and a 10% lower chance
of clear sky.
coast and interior portions of Australias eclipse path are
readily accessible within a one- to two-day drive from Adelaide.
Close weather monitoring, Internet access to the latest satellite
cloud images, and mobility will increase your odds of locating the
perfect spot to witness natures greatest spectacle.
halfway around the world for a 30 second eclipse might sound completely
crazy, but the experience of totality is worth every second. A century
ago, author and eclipse chaser Mabel Todd summed it up best when
she wrote: "I doubt if the effect of witnessing a total eclipse
ever quite passes away. The impression is singularly vivid and quieting
for days, and can never be wholly lost. A startling nearness to
the gigantic forces of nature and their inconceivable operation
seems to have been established. Personalities and towns and cities,
and hates and jealousies, and even mundane hopes, grow very small
and very far away."