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.
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.
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.
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.