Fig. 1. A Total Eclipse of the Sun. This movie shows a total solar eclipse beginning as a partial eclipse with the Moon moving from upper right down toward lower left. The eclipse then continues through totality with bright coronal streams and red flame-like prominence. The eclipse then concludes with another partial eclipse. Click image for "Why See a Total Eclipse of the Sun." (Cred. H.L. Cohen)
Visiting Earth's oldest continent is always special. But to witness a total eclipse of the Sun (Fig. 1) rising over the Coral Sean and Great Barrier Reef makes a visit to Australia in November 2012 extraordinary. This favorable circumstance will also give visitors an opportunity to explore beautiful Queensland with options to see more of this vast, ancient land. (See Itinerary.)
If not sure why you should see a total solar eclipse or want to know more about them:
Date of this Eclipse The date and time of this eclipse depends on your time zone. On Greenwich or Universal Time (UT), the date is 13 November but in Australia the date will be 14 November. (Queensland is ten hours ahead of UT although New South Wales is eleven hours ahead in November due to daylight time.) So, the "official date" of this eclipse according to Greenwich time is 13 November.
This total eclipse will only be visible from a narrow path across the Earth's surface with a width never wider than approximately 111 miles (179 km). However, the path of totality is long extending thousands of miles from northern Australia across the vast expanse of the South Pacific Ocean (Fig. 2). Here the path ends about 500 miles west of the Chilean coast in South America. Therefore, northeastern Australia is the most practical location to witness totality.
Fig. 2. Total Eclipse of 2012 Nov. 14. Path of totality begins in northern Australia and ends over 8,000 miles west of Chile. Greatest eclipse duration is 4m02s in the central South Pacific Ocean. Curved lines adjacent to path of total eclipse show regions of decreasing partial eclipse with eclipse magnitudes from 80% to 0%. Click diagram to enlarge. Click image to enlarge. (Cred. Diagram adapted from Fred Espenak, NASA's GSFC.)
A partial solar eclipse will occur over the rest of Australia, all of New Zealand, Indonesia including New Guinea, most of the South Pacific Ocean, the southern section of South American and part of Antarctica. None of the eclipse is visible from North America, northern South America, Eurasia or Africa. Nevertheless, partial solar eclipses pale in comparison to total eclipses of the Sun. (Read "Why See a Total Eclipse of the Sun?")
The path of totality begins near sunrise in Australia and ends near sunset west of Chile (Fig. 2). The duration of totality reaches its maximum value (about 4m04s) along the center line of the path. Unfortunately this occurs approximately 3,500 miles east of Australia out in the central Pacific Ocean. However, the east coast of the Australian mainland will still have more than two minutes of totality.
Note: Longest possible duration for a total solar eclipse is about 7m32s. Durations more than six minutes are rare with longest of the 21st Century approximately 6m39s for the total solar eclipse of 2009. The next longest is the 2027 August 2 with a maximum duration of 6m23s. For more details, see Maximum Duration of Totality below.
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Fig. 3. Animation of the 2012 November Total Solar Eclipse. The small black dot and large grayish area represent the umbral and penumbral shadows. The moving darker, crescent shaped area shows nighttime regions. (Credit A. T. Sinclair.)
The animation in Fig. 3 shows an animation (by A.T. Sinclair)* of the lunar shadow moving across the Earth's surface. This animation shows the umbral shadow or path of totality as a dark small dot) and the penumbral shadow or region of partial eclipse as a large gray area. (A darker, crescent shape area displays nighttime regions.) As the animation runs, the upper right corner shows the Universal Time or UT (essentially Greenwich Civil Time, now also called Greenwich Mean Time). Lower right corner shows instantaneous duration of the total eclipse.
The penumbra, displayed as the large grayish region (over 5,000 mi or 8,000 km across), sweeps across the Earth from west to east. Everyone within the penumbra's path sees a partial eclipse of the Sun. Outside the path, no eclipse is visible.
The Moon's dark umbral shadow appears as a tiny black dot (about 110 miles or 180 km wide) at the center of the penumbra. Near the point of greatest eclipse the umbra moves across the Earth at a speed of about 1500 mi/hr (about 2,400 km/hr). Only those within the narrow umbral path see a total eclipse, which reaches maximum duration (4m02s) far out in the Pacific Ocean roughly 3,500 miles east of the Australia coast.
The moving darker, crescent shaped area shows nighttime areas of the Earth. From start to finish, the umbra takes approximately two hours to sweep across the Earth as it travels from the northern Australis into the South Pacific Ocean.
*Andrew T. Sinclair, who has previously worked in the Space Geodesy Group and in The Nautical Almanac Office at the former Royal Greenwich Observatory, has authored many similar animations.
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The maximum duration of totality for a solar eclipse is about 7-1/2 minutes (nowadays 7m32s according to Belgiun astronomer Jean Meeus) and this is almost never achieved usually totality lasts only a few minutes. Almost half are approximately three minutes or less. In fact, the 2002 Australia total solar eclipse had a duration of totality of only about 30 seconds. The eclipse path ended over the outback with the Sun setting for many observers before the partial phases ended (Fig. 4).
Fig. 4. The 2002 Australia Total Eclipse. This was the last total eclipse of the Sun seen on this continent. The duration of totality was only about 30 seconds and the Sun set for many observers during the ending partial phases. (Cred. H.L. Cohen)
The longest duration of the 20th Century occurred over a half century ago, 1955 June 20 (7m08s). A seven minute duration will not happen until 2150 June (7m14s) while a total eclipse with a duration near maximum is nearly two centuries in the future. This will not happen until the remarkable 2186 July total eclipse (7m29s), the longest duration of totality during the years -2000 to +4000. Unfortunately, this long duration will take place about 400 mi (640 km) east of South America in the Atlantic Ocean, 500 mi (800 km) north of the equator.
Currently maximum total eclipse durations are declining with the 2009 July eclipse longest of the 21st Century. Not until 2078 will total eclipse durations begin to increase when Saros cycle 139 begins to bring eclipses of longer and longer durations. (See "The Saros" in next section.)
Finally, maximum duration of a total solar eclipse occurs only on the center line of the eclipse path about mid-way between its ends. This position may often be difficult to access as it is for the 2012 November eclipse where maximum duration is 4m02s in the central Pacific Ocean. On the Queensland east coast, where most people will see this eclipse, the duration is just over two minutes if on the center line. However, the duration will still be at least two minutes as long as the observer remains within a distance no more than 25% away from the center line. (Our location is about 16% out from the center line with a loss in duration of only about 1-1/2 seconds. See Weather and Eclipse Site and Eclipse Circumstances below for more material on our observing location and more details about this eclipse.)
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Eclipses occur in families or cycles called the Saros. The 2012 November eclipse belongs to a series of eclipses that are members of Saros 133.
The Saros eclipse cycle is a period of about 6,585.3 days (18 years 11 days 8 hours). Two eclipses separated by one Saros cycle have similar geometry (similar duration, same time of year, etc.). However, they are separated in longitude about one-third of Earth's rotation since the Saros cycle ends in approximately one-third of a day. The periodicity and recurrence of solar eclipses as governed by the Saros are useful for organizing eclipses into families.
A typical Saros series lasts about 12 to 13 centuries and contains 70 or more eclipses. Eclipses in a given cycle typically start as partial eclipses and later become central eclipses (annular or total) with increasing and then decreasing durations. The longest duration occurs about halfway through the period. Finally the cycle ends with partial solar eclipses more than one thousand years after the cycle first began. More than one Saros cycle operates simultaneously so that eclipses occurring over a period of years do not necessarily belong to the same Saros. For example, the previous total solar eclipse (2010 July 11) belonged to Saros 146.
Fig. 5. Edmund Halley. Halley may be responsible for giving calling the eclipse cycle the Saros. (Portrait by Thomas Murray, circa. 1687, Royal Society, London.)
Saros 136 brought us most of the long eclipses of the 20th century and will do so until late in the 21st century. Then eclipses of another cycle (Saros 139) will begin producing longer durations of totality, (The incredible 2186 eclipse of 7m29s duration belongs to this Saros.) The last long eclipse that brought more than six minutes of totality occurred 2009 Ausust 22 as part of Saros 136. The next with a duration of totality exceeding six minutes occurs eighteen years later on 2027 August 2 (6m23s), again belonging to Saros 136.
Edmund Halley (16561742), of Comet Halley fame, may have been the first to use the name "saros" for this eclipse cycle (Fig. 5). Halley, it seems, mistakenly took it from the Suda, a large 10th Century, Byzantine encyclopedia. (Wikipedia).
Saros 133 Solar eclipses of Saros 133, including the 2012 November 13 eclipse, first began with a partial eclipse 1219 July 13 and will end with a partial eclipse 2499 September 5 after a period of about 1,280 years containing 72 eclipses. The 2012 eclipse is 45th in this cycle.
Maximum durations of totality are now decreasing for Saros 133. The total eclipse in this Saros previous to the 2012 eclipse (maximum duration 4m02s) occurred 1994 November 3 with maximum duration in the Atlantic Ocean of 4m23s. Next after in Saros 133 is 2030 November 25 in the Indian Ocean with a duration of 3m44s. Longest duration of totality in Saros 133 happened on 1850 August 7 and lasted 6m50s. The last total eclipse in this Saros occurs 2373 June 21 with a maximum duration of only 1m24s. Seven more partial eclipses will then end Saros 133.
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The Northern Territory of Australia including Queensland to the east have distinct dry and wet seasons. The November eclipse comes during the early months of the rainy monsoon season. This will decrease the chances of sunny skies but cloud cover should be less than in following months. Good prospects of clear weather for the eclipse may remain in eastern Queensland especially since the eclipse occurs soon after sunrise. Morning temperatures will likely be warm (low 80s Fahrenheit or upper 20s Celsius) with high relative humidity at around 80 percent.
Fig. 6. Total Solar Eclipse Track Over Australia The path of totality begins over northern Australia and moves eastward into the Coral Sea near Cairns early on the morning of 2012 November 14 Australian EST. Red dot shows our observing location on Trinity Beach. Click image to enlarge. (Map by Jay Anderson.)
Wettest weather is likely in the Northern Territory. Here the eclipse begins near the northern coast. Besides being remote, the partial phases begin before sunrise with totality when the Sun's altitude is only a degree or so. Duration of totality is also shorter than to the east where Queensland lies.
Trinity Beach We have chosen our accommodations and observing site for the eclipse on the east coast of northern Queensland, Trinity Beach, between Cairns and Port Douglas and close to the center eclipse line. (Our site is seven miles or eleven kilometers southwest of the eclipse center line where the loss in duration is only one to two seconds). See Fig. 6.
Here prospects for clearer skies are better than most other areas. We have also secured comfortable, five-star accommodations during our stay in Queensland. Although we cannot guarantee clear skies for the eclipse, know that our guests have always commented that our tours exceed expectations whatever the eclipse weather. Our location on Trinity Beach is also a good choice for an eclipse that begins very early in the morning (5:45 a.m. local time), about ten minutes after sunrise. (See Eclipse Circumstances below.) And our beach location will give a clear view of the horizon over the Coral Sea to enjoy sunrise and behold the eclipsed Sun.
Finally, the low altitude of the Sun during this eclipse as seen from Trinity Beach makes the viewing angle comfortable for both watching and photographing the eclipse without the need for backbreaking postures or awkward camera positions, an advantage. And watching the eclipsed Sun staring back over the Coral Sea just before the Moon's ominous shadow races out to sea should certainly be breathtaking.
Eclipse Weather Update (March 2011) Meteorologist Jay Anderson, who specializes in eclipse weather, has completed an update for the 2012 Australia total solar eclipse. Unfortunately, Anderson notes that along the eclipse track in northern Australia, tropical and equatorial conditions produce high humidity and a greater likelihood of cloud cover than otherwise expected.
However, he notes locations on beaches where a coastal site is flat have the advantage of a clear view across the water without concerns for obstructions or hills that might block the view of this low-altitude eclipse. Anderson suggests, if the weather is favorable, an oceanside view from a convenient hotel is probably the most comfortable situation that this eclipse can offer.
In addition, Anderson concludes that cloud prospects are good along the coast, especially in the region between Cairns and Port Douglas. This is where we have chosen our eclipse accommodations and viewing area at Trinity Beach, about 10 mi. (16 km.) north or Cairns.
Anderson's statistics on cloud and sunshine statistics for the Cairns region suggest a promising 66 percent frequency of sunshine in November. In addition, he says that "because sunshine data refer to the entire day, and because the eclipse comes in the sunnier morning hours, the probability of seeing the eclipse is likely a little greater than the statistics imply."
For more details, see Anderson's web site: 2012 November 13 Total Solar Eclipse.
Regardless, everyone should remember a quotation, well-known to eclipse chasers, "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." (Robert A. Heinlein).
More information on Australia's weather and climate, including average temperatures and rainfall for the three principal areas visited on our 2012 Australia Eclipse, is on our Terms and Conditions Page under Climate. For links on Austrlia climate and weather, see "Australia's Climate and Weather" on our Australia Info Page.
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Eclipse watchers will need to rise early since the eclipse begins at Trinity Beach shortly after sunrise (about 5:35 a.m.). After the eclipse people can then enjoy an early breakfast, perhaps a morning nap with the rest of the day for sightseeing since the eclipse is over by 7:40 a.m. (We will provide drinks and breakfast snacks during the eclipse.) Table 1 give detailed eclipse times and the Sun's altitude for the eclipse.
The entire eclipse lasts nearly two hours. This duration is shorter than for some total eclipses because Queensland is near the beginning of the eclipse path. Here the Moon's shadow quickly races over the Earth's surface. The beginning partial phases last about 54 minutes with the Sun only about one degree above the sea. Totality follows with a duration of approximately 2m01s when the Sun is now 14 degrees high. Partial phases will again follow lasting about an hour.
Table 1. Circumstances of the Eclipse
||16° 47'.3 S
||145° 42.1 E
||+10h (i.e., 10h later than UT or 15h later than EST in USA)|
|Sunrise (on eclipse day)
||05:35 a.m. local time*
|Eclipse Times & Sun's Position
|Partial Eclipse Begins (1st Contact)
||05:44:38 a.m. (19:44:38 UT)
|Totality Begins (2nd Contact)
||06:38:26 a.m. (20:38:26 UT)
||06:39:27 a.m. (20:39:27 UT)
|Totality Ends (3rdContact)
||06:40:29 a.m. (20:40:29 UT)
|Partial Eclipse Ends (4th Contact)
||07:40:09 a.m. (21:40:09 UT)
|Information About Totality|
|Moon/Sun Size Ratio
||89 mi. (143 km)
|abt. 2.2 mi/s (3.6 km/s)
*Local zone times used (Australian Eastern Standard Time), which is 10h later than Greenwich or Universal Time (UT). Note that Eastern Standard Time is 5 hours later than UT. Queensland does not use daylight time unlike New South Wales (location of Sydney). (See Australia Time Zone Map.)
Eclipse Times including maximum eclipse duration depend on several factors including limb profile and are approximate. Actual values may differ by about one second.
Altitudes contain an approximate correction for refraction. This is especially significant for the start of the eclipse when the altitude of the Sun is very small.
(Celestial objects near the horizon can be elevated by about one-half degree.)
§Magnitude refers here to the eclipse magnitude (fraction of solar diameter hidden) and not the magnitude of a celestial object, which is a measure of brightness. See Notes to Table 2 and Glossary. Also eclipse obscuration refers to the fraction of the Sun's area covered by the Moon.
Solar Filters: Guests will be given safe solar filters for non-optical use to allow viewing the partial phases of the eclipse. (No filters needed to view totality.) For more information see our page about Eye Safety.
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Searching the darkened eclipse sky is one of many eclipse activities. Nevertheless, the duration of totality for the 2012 November eclipse is not especially long in Australia but traveling to the area of maximum duration in the wide Pacific Ocean is not practical for many. Besides, one would not have the chance to explore magnificent Australia! Therefore, viewing the darkened eclipse sky should not have priority.
Still, for those who want information on the eclipse sky, several planets and bright stars may be visible. See Table 2 for details and Fig. 4, which shows the eastern sky at the time of the eclipse.
Table 2. Planets & Stars in the Eclipse Sky at Time of Total Eclipse
Table Notes: (See Glossary for more details)
- Magnitude (abbrev. mag.) Refers to the magnitude scale, an astronomical scale of brightness. Algebraically decreasing values designate brighter objects. Do not confuse with eclipse magnitude (fraction of Solar diameter hidden) as used in Table 1. See Glossary for more details.
- Altitude Angular distance in degrees above an ideal horizon.
- Azimuth Angular distance in degrees from north (measured toward the east).
- Elongation Angular distance in degrees from the Sun.
Fig. 4. The Eastern Total Eclipse Sky at time of the 2012 Nov. 14 eclipse as seen from the East Coast of Queensland. The totally eclipsed Sun (in the constellation Libra) appears 14° above the eastern horizon about 64 minutes after sunrise. The only other prominent objects are Venus and the star Arcturus. Mercury is low and very faint. The Saturn and the star Spica may be visible to keen eyes. (Credit: H.L. Cohen)
Summary of Eclipse Sky|
Venus, although not near greatest brilliancy, will still blaze brightly (mag. -4.0) and should be easily visible above and slightly left of the eclipsed Sun.
Mercury, closest planet to the Sun, will be just below the Sun and likely too faint to spot (mag. +2.9).
Saturn appearing between the eclipsed Sun and Venus, will be far from Earth and not currently bright (mag. +0.6). However, keen eyes might see the ringed planet.
Jupiter, although bright (mag. -2.8) will unfortunately be very low over the western horizon and probably blocked by buildings or trees if observing from Queensland's east coast.
Spica in Virgo will be just right of Venus but may not be sufficiently bright to find (mag. +1.0).
Arcturus, this bright, yellowish star in Bootes (mag. 0.0) should appear left of the eclipsed Sun.
Finally, most of the bright winter stars (so-called by Northern Hemisphere observers) will also be low in the west. The planet Mars will be below the eastern horizon and, therefore, not in the eclipse sky.
Again do not spend much time searching for stars or planets (except possibly Venus and Arcturus) or one may miss the main attraction.
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If you still have doubts about touring Australia and the eclipse:
"To witness a total eclipse of the Sun is a privilege that comes to but few people. Once seen, however, it is a phenomenon never to be forgotten."
Isabel M. Lewis (1924)
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