Total Solar Eclipse 2023 April 20

Expectations were high, since the last total solar eclipse to grace the Australian mainland in November 2012. This one was very special as it was a rare hybrid eclipse that started annular in the Indian Ocean, then became total, and then annular at the end of the track over the Pacific Ocean. The path of totality, which just touched the Australia mainland on the Exmouth Peninsula, Western Australia, was only 40 km wide and maximum duration was 63 seconds. Greatest eclipse occurred slightly south of Timor-Leste, an island east of Indonesia, with totality lasting 76 seconds. Duration at my location of Sal Salis on the western side of the peninsula in the Cape Range National Park, was 48 seconds. The entire duration of the eclipse was an unusually long 2 hours 57 minutes. 

This was the first large event post-Covid in WA and a perfect opportunity for the tourism-based industries of Exmouth to show off the local attractions - "swimming with the whale-sharks", snorkelling (and scuba diving) in the warm, clear waters of the Ningaloo Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage coral reef just metres from the shore and exploring the canyons a short drive away. A little to the north of Exmouth is the North West Cape VLF radio communications base and other military installations which were established there in the early 1960's due to their very isolated locations. Some of the local scenery and experiences.

High commendations to the tourism bureaux and local businesses for successfully managing the unprecedented influx of tourists into the region. Exmouth’s resident population of 2,800 was swelled way beyond the 6,000 normally accommodated at the height of the tourist season: according to The Guardian on-line, about 20,000 Aussies and visitors from all over the world flocked to Exmouth and surrounding areas to stake their claim inside the narrow track. Hotel and camping ground accommodation was booked out well in advance, so organisers provided a large area on the outskirts of town with tents for additional accommodation. A three-day dark sky festival was also held which included astronomy-related activities, dark sky dining and free concerts – perfect ways to spend time outdoors in the balmy evening air. April is a relatively dry month in Exmouth, though cloud cover can be significant. Average daytime temperatures were around 30oC and 24oC in the evenings. 

Despite concerns that Cyclone Ilsa might impact (it didn't) and the moderately cloudy skies on the 19th, eclipse day dawned clear and sunny and remained so until after 4th contact. The partial phases passed uneventfully, though a distinct chill developed in the air from about half way through, the gusty onshore winds significantly abated and a sense of calm descended over the land. Then, the light faded - more gradually than expected - as the Moon's umbra arrived.

It was stunning and I managed to observe the majority of the 48 secs of totality with my eyes. On a rating scale of 1-10, I’d give it 11. The intensity of the inner corona and of the many coronal streamers gave an awe-inspiring appearance of an intensely black flower with brilliant white petals surrounded by deep blue sky. To add to the show, there were several bright prominences around the lunar edge with Jupiter nearby, and Venus low in the NE. Based on previous experiences, the ambient light during totality was brighter than usual (due to the closeness in size of the Moon and Sun in the sky) that allowed more light from the brilliant inner corona to reach the ground, which was then reflected upwards off the area’s sand and water. Lunar-edge effects, such as Baily’s Beads, views of the chromosphere and shadow bands (clearly visible on the off-white sandy ground) were prolonged because of the closeness in size. At third contact, the diamond ring was spectacular and a small flock of little corellas made quite a noisy commotion as the shortest "night" they had ever experienced came and went in almost no time at all. 

Special memories indeed, following extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime experiences.


Just after first contact; a little nick on the top of the Sun to show that the Moon has arrived to start the show

Pinhole projection of the crescent Sun. A unique memento of the event and location

About five minutes to totality. A lot happens from here on

Baily's Beads marking the beginning of totality 

The chromosphere in all its glory

A highly detailed view around the lunar edge at mid eclipse

The corona at mid-eclipse. Numerous long streamers extend into the deep blue sky giving the impression of a celestial flower

Third contact; a string of Baily's Beads extend along the lunar limb to mark the end of totality
The exit diamond ring. A stunning phase to enjoy for a second or two with naked eyes. Take care of your eyes - avoid looking for too long


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