SYDNEY – From boats bobbing on the Great Barrier Reef, to hot air balloons hovering over the rain forest, and the hilltops and beaches in between, tens of thousands of scientists, tourists and amateur astronomers watched Wednesday as the sun, moon and Earth aligned and plunged northern Australia into darkness during a total solar eclipse.
Stubborn clouds that many feared would ruin the view parted – at least partly – in some areas of north Queensland, defying forecasts of a total eclipse-viewing bust and relieving spectators who had fanned out across the region to catch a rare glimpse of the celestial phenomenon.
“Immediately before, I was thinking, ‘Are we gonna see this?’ And we just had a fantastic display – it was just beautiful,” said Terry Cuttle of the Astronomical Association of Queensland, who has seen a dozen total solar eclipses over the years. “And right after it finished, the clouds came back again. It really adds to the drama of it.”
Spectators whooped and clapped with delight as the moon passed between the sun and Earth, leaving a slice of the continent’s northeast in sudden darkness.
Starting just after dawn, the eclipse cast its 95-mile shadow in Australia’s Northern Territory, crossed the northeast tip of the country and was swooping east across the South Pacific, where no islands are in its direct path. A partial eclipse was visible from east Indonesia, the eastern half of Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and southern parts of Chile and Argentina. Totality – the darkness that happens at the peak of the eclipse – lasted just over two minutes in Australia.
Northern Australia is the only place where the total eclipse was visible from land, said Geoff Wyatt, an astronomer with Sydney Observatory. The rest of its path crossed over the largely uninhabited South Pacific.
Hank Harper, 61, and his two children flew to Australia from their home in Los Angeles just to see the eclipse. The three boarded a hot air balloon filled with other eager tourists, crossed their fingers – and were rewarded with a perfect view.
They watched the sun’s rays re-emerge from behind the moon while kangaroos hopped along below.
“It was everything I could have hoped for,” he said.