Monday, 19 November 2012


I have to admit, I was initially a bit sceptical about the hoo-haa surrounding the total solar eclipse. A couple of years in advance, all the hotels in Cairns were fully booked out around the target date of November 14. The chance of a cloudy November morning on the far northern coast of Queensland is about 30%, so we had a 1 in 3 chance of seeing nothing but a false evening. And the eclipse was due to occur just after dawn, when (babies not withstanding) I am typically still in bed. Meh. How much of a spectacle could it be?

As the date crept closer, of course, there was nothing you could do to avoid it. Everyone in Cairns was talking about it. The forecast attempts from the weather bureau were coming thick and fast from about a week out. Local authorities were warning residents about likely mayhem on the roads for the few hours before and after. And makers of eclipse sunglasses were making an absolute killing - surely some of those crappy "filters" were nothing more than $5 squares of black paper!

In the end, though, I couldn't stay away. We had a friend visit from Japan and put in a detour to Cairns just for the event. A work colleague invited us around to his place, for a great view over the city and the mountains from his balcony. We borrowed some welding shields from my wife's father, who made them to view the transit of Venus earlier in the year. We bought some bubbly. We got up at 05:00 and were in place by 06:15 to see it all go down.

What do you know, there was a big fat cloud right in front of the sun as it rose over the coastal ranges. Massive fail incoming.

But wait... the edge of the cloud is brightening... glimpses of the sun, quick get the glasses... 2 minutes to go and the clouds have parted perfectly... what do you know, those crappy sunglasses really do work - but the welding shields are SOOOO much better, you can even take photos through them...

Within a matter of the last few seconds before totality, the sky darkened, the temperature dropped, and you could start to look in the general direction of the sun without being blinded. And suddenly, the sun was gone, replaced by the moon and its halo.

There followed two minutes of beautiful, perfect, somehow-I-feel-insignificant-in-the-universe totality. ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE.

Even our little boy Ryo noticed it, between chasing the dog around the house. "The mooooon!" he cried and pointed. I guess he won't remember it when he's an adult, but I'll make sure he knows that he's seen it, because for most of us it's truly a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.

And I can sort of understand why some people travel the world chasing eclipses, waiting for their next solar fix. Brief though that interlude of totality may be, it is truly a wonder of our existence in this corner of the multiverse. I think the comment that sums it up for me was to the tune of, "The fact that the moon covers the sun so perfectly makes you wonder that someone must have organised it that way." It certainly makes we wonder, and in any case, it was wonderful.

And for all you guys hanging out down at the Esplanade, I think that cloud that moved out of the way for us must have moved into the way for you. Sorry. Better luck in South Australia in a couple of decades time, eh? :)

If I hadn't been living right under the path of the eclipse, of course, I probably wouldn't have bothered. Another reason I feel lucky to have moved to Cairns some six years ago. No wonder they call it paradise.