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Chasing Shadows

What is it about a total solar eclipse that impels people to travel to all kinds of far-flung corners of the world just to enjoy a few minutes of basking in the shadow of the moon? Is it for science, an addiction, the excuse to travel, or just plain craziness? For me, the answer is all of the above! In any case, those are the reasons my husband John O’Neill (ONJ) and I made the long trek to Queensland, Australia last month.

There are many phenomena one can look for during a total solar eclipse besides the beautiful corona; the diamond ring, Baily’s beads, shadow bands, etc. etc. I would argue that another would be the associated human migration. As eclipse day draws near, people from all over the globe begin congregating in the approximately 100 mile (150 km) wide path of totality. Where the shadow passes over the sea, people take to ships in order to position themselves well. Some people travel on their own, others join groups, tours, or expeditions.

There is a growing feeling of excitement as we get closer to Eclipse Day. For John and me, it really began to sink home when we chanced to meet an English couple we knew from a previous eclipse, in Sydney – almost 1500 miles (2400 km) away from the eclipse sites and a week before the big day.

As we flew from Sydney to Cairns a few days later, we could tell that most of our fellow airline passengers were on the same mission. There is a certain look about an eclipse chaser that is hard to describe, but they often wear astronomical T-shirts and carry luggage containing telescopes or cameras that helps to confirm the suspicion. Even the airport security personnel don’t seem surprised by the increasing amount of astronomical equipment they are seeing with their X-ray machines.

During the course of one evening in Cairns, we chanced to meet seven people we knew from three continents travelling in different groups and staying in different hotels. The next day, we ran into a couple more we know from Ireland, at a grocery store in Mareeba– a small town about an hour’s drive away. All of this was without prior arrangement or detailed knowledge of their itinerary, a fact I find amazing, although I shouldn’t really be too surprised. This sort of thing happens a lot at eclipses. It is all part of the magic.

See you in 2017 (if not before)!


All photos by ONJ using a DSLR on a 60mm refractor (Takahashi FS-60C). Location near Maitland Downs, Queensland.

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