The most spectacular event of 2012 occurs November 13/14 as the Sun, the Moon, and Earth line up once again to create a total solar eclipse. Unlike the annular eclipse nearly six months earlier, however, which hit two continents and several large cities, totality touches only one continent and a few modest towns.
Remote observing note: Join
Astronomy Contributing Editor Bob Berman in Cairns, Australia, as he broadcasts the total solar eclipse live with SLOOH Space Camera at http://events.slooh.com.
The place to be the morning of the 14th is northern Australia. The path of totality begins along the coast of the Northern Territory, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of Darwin. The track then crosses the Gulf of Carpentaria before cutting across the Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland. After that, the path heads across the Pacific Ocean and doesn’t make landfall again.
For those who want to maximize both the length of totality and the chances for favorable weather, the best bet is to view from Queensland’s east coast or a bit offshore. From Cairns, famous as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the Sun rises at 5:35 a.m. local time, and the partial eclipse begins 10 minutes later. Totality starts at 6:39 a.m. and lasts precisely two minutes. Viewers on the shadow’s centerline some 19 miles (30km) north of Cairns gain an extra five seconds of totality. Climate statistics suggest the odds of sunshine in the early morning hours along the Australian coast are around 65 percent, and a few percentage points better in the offshore waters.
“Viewing a total solar eclipse is unlike any other sight,” says Astronomy
magazine Contributing Editor Mike Reynolds. “It’s the most dramatic event most people will ever see.”
A few minutes before totality, as the slightly larger Moon advances on the dwindling Sun, the solar crescent starts to break up. Mountains on the Moon’s limb poke through the tiny sliver while sunlight continues to stream through lunar valleys. At that time, viewers see a phenomenon astronomers call Baily’s beads.