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Total Solar Eclipse in Australia 

November 14, 2012

Beautiful Day Part I: THE ECLIPSE

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4:30 am and the Sun is thinking of rising slowly on the eastern 4 Mile Beach. Venus shines high to the left side, the last remaining celestial object visible after a stunning display of the Southern Hemisphere’s best and brightest. At 3:30 am the iconic southern cross laid on its side to the northeast spanning across a spectacular showing of the Milky Way that stretched unbroken to the West and upside down Orion, followed closely by Sirius in Canis Major on one side and Aldeboron in Taurus on the other. It is probably the second most stars I’ve seen in my life.

The beach slowly and steadily filled with people as the Sun rose. Queensland if the only state in Australia with daylight savings and that definitely worked to our benefit. Official sunrise was 5:33 am and first contact (when the Moon’s shadow first touches the edge of the Sun) at 5:44, so the Sun was hanging low in the sky.

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Spectators came prepared with a variety of viewing methods. Every shop and vendor in and around Cairns and Port Douglas were selling the standard paper supported “eclipse glasses” – the same that were available around San Francisco earlier this year for our annular eclipse and transit of Venus. These were going for anywhere from $1 to $10, though many accommodations, including my hostel, gave them out upon check in. Others went more high tech, with solar filters for their cameras, telescopes, and even binoculars. My favorite were the homemade methods. A few got their hands on wielders glass ( #14 or above) and attached some sort of holder to them like these smart folks above. There were some less than safe means as well, such as using film, X-rays, or even just sun glasses. Fortunately most other people around we’re more than happy to share their safer methods.

At one point I did consider making a quick pinhole projector – simply looking at a shadow on the ground cast by a small pick of light . The problem was that it is an indirect way to view the eclipse and people had travelled from around the world to be in one of the prime viewing locations. Everyone was intent on looking directly at it and I don’t blame them.

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As the Moon continued to obscure more of the Sun, there were noticeable physical changes around us. It was certainly getting dimmer outside, as though large clouds had pulled in. People’s shadows on the ground became noticeably elongated.

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The eclipse itself was hauntingly beautiful and eerily spectacular. A literal chill was palpable in the audience after totality hit. The air seemed still, the birds went dead silent. Everyone watching appreciated the stunning majesty of the celestial objects power over our sky.

A few minutes after totality, people began to pack up. The tide had gotten very high up on the beach and the main event was over. However, the energy of the crowd was still there. Many of the people I walked back to town with were riding the same adrenaline high as I was, grinning from ear to ear with pure elation on what we had just witnessed.

While there was nothing I could do to match the high of what I’d just seen, I still had a whole beautiful day ahead of me in a tropical paradise. So what to do? Easy. A light breakfast with complementary mimosas and a day snorkeling one of the most beautiful places on Earth- the Great Barrier Reef.


Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 12:30 am

November 13, 2012

Get This Party Started

To say people are excited about the eclipse is like saying San Francisco was okay with the Giants winning the World Series again. The entire 60 kilometers between Cairns and Port Douglas are insane with an estimated 60,000 people flooding into the tiny resort towns for the event. Hostels and hotels are booked up with their rates nearly doubled, small market fairs are hosted every night, certified eclipse glasses are sold at every shop and stand on every corner, special parties and tours of viewing sites are selling out, and you can purchase a plethora of memorabilia to immortalized your experience.

Now for the reality.

The viability has been spotty at best for the last week, with on and off rain showers catching people off guard throughout the day. It is the rainy season after all.

The best place to view is on the ridges and hills to the west, but that requires a car and a decent knowledge of the area to find a place with a clear eastern view that early. Multiple boats and ships are taking people right to the path of the eclipse and are far enough to sea on the reef to avoid clouds – for a price. That leaves the beaches, many of with are blocked off for private access, media, and safety concerns. The biggest and most accessible stretch is the main 4 Mile Beach, which is we’re most people will go. So it will be crowded.

Since it is so early, the tide will be in. And not just any tide. A king high tide, expected to take up the majority of the beach leaving even less space.

But,

I have my glasses, my camera, my iPad to stream live back to you lovely folks, and an alarm set for 3:30am.

Lets do this.

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Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 4:22 am

On the Road … Again

When traveling – avoid the 24 hour bus ride. It’s not worth it. Especially when it turns into 32 hours by the time you actually reach your destination.

The bus did afford me the interesting opportunity to see a tremendous amount of the countryside and see blue sky and sun for the first time since Sydney. It did give me a little hope that maybe, just maybe, the clouds might break on the coast.

I also got my first chance to actually view some of the southern constellations, though to be fair it was from the window of a bus. Nonetheless I got my first peek at the southern cross, or Crux, the smallest of the 88 constellations. Even better was seeing Orion upside down! Hopefully more viewing is to come.

I’ve arrived in Port Douglas, with thousands of kilometers and many adventures behind me and the biggest events yet to come – the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, and of course, the eclipse!

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Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 3:57 am

Of Buses and Beaches: Part II

Hervey Bay is another beach town up the eastern coast. It and Rainbow Beach are the major launching points to the big attraction in the area – Fraser Island. While Rainbow Beach is said to have superb multicolored sand beaches and hillsides, I opted for Harvey Bay because, in all honesty, it was further north and would make the next leg of the bus trip slightly shorter.

Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and it is only accessible via tour of guide – no solo adventuring. And there is good reason for it. The island is a UNESCO protected world heritage site and renowned for its beauty as well as ecological significance. It of course rained off and on the entire time I was there.

There is a variety of flora and fauna on the island in environments the span nine types of forests, sand dunes, tide pools, lakes, creeks, and beaches. Most noticeably, since they’re more of a threat, are the 150-200 dingos running in packs. They look like a smaller cross between a wolf and a coyote, aren’t really afraid of people, and will eat ANYTHING. It is not uncommon for dingos to steal bags to chew up of find food in, so very small sections of the island are dingo-proofed. There have also bee two recorded deaths of small children mauled to death by these pack animals, so dingo safety is no laughing matter.

My personal favorite that we unfortunately did not see are an endangered “acid” frog that live in the highly acidic Basin Lake. They are small, cute, and nocturnal like most interesting things around here, so very rare to spot. Same goes with the red tree kangaroo.

The fact that life thrives in such an abundance on effectively a pile of sand is astounding. The vegetation helps prevent, or at least slow, massive erosion. A complex mixture of impregnated sand called “coffee rock” forms from organic materials and sand cementing together to create a relatively impervious base that fresh water collects in. This allows the lakes a creeks to not simply seep through the sand. This includes the brilliant Lake Mackenzie, a white sand beach that reflects the color of the sky so perfectly it has been called one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is second to a neighboring island to the north, Whitsunday, in having the whitest sand. It is said to be scientifically proven the whitest beach in the world, composed of 95% quartz and silicon as opposed to the average 35%.

The island was enough to even support a small native population for thousands of years, which thrived on the island and have many beautiful “dream stories” about the creation of their island paradise. Logging and commercial interests decimated the local population, though a small community still exists, preserving as much of their culture and lore as possible.

As you can imagine on a sand island, the roads were a bit bumpy. Well, actually many off us nearly flew out of seats more than once. The smoothest part of the ride was the highway – the beach itself which literally closes at high tide. Along the Plath we also explored the colored sands, numerous shipwrecks, walks through forests, swims in beautiful creeks and lakes and tide pooling in the champagne pools. Over all, a lovely couple of days.

I have been seeing a lot of clouds and threats of continuing rain… We will see if the 23.5 hour bus ride north changes any thing.

On to Port Douglas and the eclipse!

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Almost too close to a dingo

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Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 3:43 am

November 11, 2012

Of Buses and Beaches: Part I

Sorry for the long delays between posts! the internet connectivity in many of the locations has left something to be desired.

If there is one thing you can say about the eastern coast of Australia it is that it has some of the most abundant and amazing beaches I have ever seen. I only had time to stop at two – Byron Bay and Fraser Island via Hervey Bay.

Twelve hours north of Sydney by Greyhound is the stunning Byron Bay. The area if famous for whale watching, particularly from June to October when humpbacks begin the migration to the southern feeding grounds in Antarctica. The Bay, as well as Fraser Island (which I will talk about in part II) are convent and safe rest stops on the route. I did manage to see a couple stragglers off the coast as well as two pods of dolphins playing in the swells.

One of the highlights of the area is an hour or so hike of the coastal rainforest ridge that over looks the bay. There is a lighthouse atop the ridge, still functional but closed to the public. That of course did not stop dedicated volunteers from wandering the area, equipped with a docent cart filled with information and tangibles about the area and whales. They managed to engage visitor about a range of topics, including a discussion about shipping pathways that may open near and through sections of the Great Barrier Reef, not only putting the reef itself at risk but seriously affecting the migratory paths of the whales as well.

I of course spent some time on the beach, enjoying the white sands, warm and crystal clear water ( especially compared to SF!), and sunshine.

In addition to abundant sea life and beautiful beaches, Byron has a very laid back, artsy feel to it, similar to the surfer community in Santa Cruz. I found it an ideal place to surround yourself in natural beauty and with people who truly appreciate the place for the gem it is.

Sadly I only had one night here. Time for a nine hour bus ride to Hervey Bay!

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Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 7:37 pm

November 7, 2012

Somewhere in Sydney

Well, I mostly made it to Sydney. It turns out the “technical issues” involved baggage not plane function. As a result my luggage never made it on the flight so I will be without my backpack until Monday evening. While I’m glad I kept a well stocked carry on, it is still annoying.

First order of business? An extensive, free, 3 hour city tour of course.

Sydney as a city can trace its history back to 1788 and shares a remarkable amount in common with our own San Francisco. Both are Pacific-bordering bay cities that got their boom from a gold rush and have a prison island in their bay, famous bridges, and rich multicultural heritages. And although San Francisco didn’t start out as a penal colony, it has always attracted interesting, often unique people. The result is similar – a dynamic, world renowned hub of culture and tourism. My personal favorites included a hospital that was built by contributions from rum dealers and a bronze statue of a dog that speaks to you when you walk by. Part of the city is literally carved out of the cliffs and ridges, and appropriately called The Rocks. While it was a seeder area for most of the city’s history, the development of the adjacent Darling Harbor has turned it into a historic area.

I explored the beautiful Royal botanical Gardens and got a breathtaking view of the harbor and Opera House. Rather than visiting the touristy Bondi Beach I went for a ferry ride to Manly. It was a good decision not just because it was beautiful but because I saw a penguin! Fairy penguins are native to Australia and New Zealand and are the smallest penguins in the world. They might even be cuter than ours…

There a plethora of museums large and small in the city, everything for the tiny Museum of Currency to the Australia Museum (natural history) and three zoos and aquariums. The Australia Museum was particularly enjoyable. It is just about the same age as our own Academy and though the building has been added on to, the heart of it remains an old fashioned, cabinet-of-curiosity style, three story room filled with dioramas. Their special exhibit, Surviving Australia, was brilliant. It highlighted not only all the fun things that can sting, bite, smash, or otherwise ruin you, but also how flora and fauna have adapted (or failed) to the harsh environment and each other.

The closest to a planetarium in Sydney is an observatory on top of – what else – Observatory Park. I failed to visit because they close at 5 pm before any stars come out. In the mean time, I am looking forward to doing some of my own observing. The light pollution here, like any major city, is going to obstruct the view of the fainter stars. Additionally, many of the better know Southern Hemisphere constellations, like the southern cross, are not visible until the early hours of the morning. As a result, I will probably do better once I leave major cities.

Next is the overnight bus to Byron Bay, near Brisbane. Lots more beaches and parks to explore before making it to Port Douglas and the eclipse!


Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 3:50 pm

November 4, 2012

On the Road (Well in the Air at Least)

I’m finally at the airport getting ready for the 12 hour flight from SFO to Auckland. It’s by far the longest flight I’ve ever been on so I’m hoping sleep will take up a lot of my time. The connecting flight to Sydney is a much more manageable three hours. Sadly my backpack was too heavy for a carry on so hopefully it will make it to my final destination. It is my fault – I forgot to check the conversion from pounds to kilos. Oops. But I got to go into an airline VIP lounge for the first time so I’m not complaining. Yay for free Milano cookies!

The coolest thing about the flight is crossing the international date line. I leave SFO at 8:30 pm on Friday the 2nd heading west for 12 hours (chasing the setting Sun!). I arrive in Auckland at 5:30 am on Sunday the 4th, missing all but three hours of Saturday. So in my universe, I get a 3 hour day which is pretty cool. I’ll get the time back when I return on the 20th.

And delays. Technical difficulties is not really something you want to hear about before you board a plane. But, we shall be boarding shortly. More updates after landing!

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Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 1:16 am

October 29, 2012

I’m off to the Land Down Under

Elise showing off MarsFour days until I depart for the Land Down Under! I will be flying out of SFO on November 2nd and journeying up the East Coast of Australia to view the solar eclipse on November 14th at 6:33 am (Tuesday November 13 for those of you on PST).

Unlike the last time a Morrison Planetarium staff member was sent abroad to view a total solar eclipse, this one will not be witnessed by hundreds of millions of people. Instead, since its path only takes it across one stretch of land in northern Australia, fewer people will get the chance to observe this incredible event.

This will be my second eclipse of the year, thanks to the beautiful annular that passed over the Bay Area on May 20th. Total eclipses, when the sun is completely blocked by the moon as opposed to leaving a halo of sunlight, are said to be a far more spectacular sight.

I will be posting entries and pictures along the way to create a sense of my experience in Australia, from Sydney Harbor to the Great Barrier Reef and, of course, the eclipse.


Filed under: Uncategorized — Elise Ricard @ 5:45 pm

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