In recent days, a town in the north-west of Australia has begun to be populated by dozens of researchers, scientists and onlookers who have come to see thetotal solar eclipse which Thursday morning will be visible in some points of the southern hemisphere. To see the solar eclipse well in the country you have to go right to Exmouth, which is located in Western Australia: normally it has 2,800 inhabitants but it is expected that on Thursday it will host about 20,000 visitors.
Among the most impatient to have crowded the town are the so-called “eclipse hunters”, or people who are passionate about eclipses who travel the world to observe, study and be amazed by these rare phenomena.
Technically Thursday will be a hybrid solar eclipse because only an annular eclipse will be seen from the Indian Ocean, a phenomenon that occurs when the Moon only partially covers the solar disk, without blocking all the light coming from the star and creating a ring of light. Around 11:30 (5:30 in Italy) from Western Australia instead the Moon will appear perfectly aligned between the Earth and the Sun and will cover it completely for about a minute: it is the so-called “totality”, i.e. the maximum phase of dimming of sunlight during an eclipse. In total, the phenomenon will last about three hours.
As happens every time there is a visible solar eclipse from somewhere in the world, this time too dozens of eclipse hunters from various countries have mobilized. Marcelo Domingues, who traveled 15,000 kilometers with his wife to get to Exmouth from Brasilia, Brazil, told ABC that for him eclipses are phenomena «spectacular», but also an opportunity to visit countries that you wouldn’t normally visit: seven years ago he went to Iceland to see a solar eclipse, and in 2016 he saw another in Indonesia with his wife.
Another visitor is Australian psychologist Kate Russo, who is passionate about eclipses and organizes “expeditions” of her own with other people from Queensland, where she lives. Russo told ABC that traveling to observe eclipses becomes “a lifestyle”, “a total addiction”, and that Thursday will be her 13th eclipse: “I’ve been on top of mountains, in deserts, on a ship in the middle of the ‘Ocean [Pacifico]1,300 kilometers west of the Galapagos Islands,” he said.
Russo also explained that until recently the community of eclipse hunters was a niche, but now it has grown a lot, becoming almost a trend and attracting more and more interest.
In addition to the Exmouth area, the total eclipse will be visible on Thursday along a path which includes Barrow Island (also in Western Australia), eastern Timor-Leste and parts of the province of Papua, which is located in the western half of the island of New Guinea and is part of Indonesia. In the rest of Australia the solar eclipse will be seen only partially: in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, for example, the Moon will obscure 85 percent of the Sun; in Melbourne, southeast Australia, 21 per cent.
To accommodate several thousand people curious to see the eclipse, Exmouth had to equip itself: the local administration opened a special area for camping, rented water tanks and invested to improve telecommunications lines and services. Among the eclipse hunters who have arrived there are also 13 members of the Solar Wind Sherpasa group of scientists and researchers from countries such as Germany, the United States and the Czech Republic who have in the past observed eclipses in the Sahara Desert, Mongolia and also the Svalbard Islands, which are located in the Arctic Ocean and are part of Norway.
Their coordinator is Shadia Habbal, professor of astronomy at the University of Hawaii. The group is so called because its members carry around the necessary equipment to study everything that happens when an eclipse occurs. Talking to the Guardianthe president of the Australian Astronomical Society, John Lattanzio, said that more generally people are attracted by the unreal and somewhat otherworldly feeling that a minute or so of “totality” can give.
According to a site that collects the statistics of eclipse hunters, at the moment who has seen the most is the American Paul Maley, who observed 81 solar, lunar or annular eclipses in 24 different countries, for a total of one hour, 11 minutes and 33 seconds of totality. The Australian ranked best is Terry Cuttle, a member of the working group of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the Paris-based organization which, among other things, coordinates the work of the astronomical societies of the individual countries and has the task of naming stars, asteroids, planets and other celestial bodies. The Italian Stefano Rosoni is also mentioned, who according to the site has seen thirty so far.
Since his first eclipse in Melbourne, in 1976, Cuttle has seen 28 more: according to him, observing an eclipse is “an opportunity to have a truly direct experience of the universe in motion” and to “observe the solar system” , since in the dark the stars and planets become visible even during the day. In the next 15 years in Australia there will be four more total solar eclipsesincluding one that in 2028 will be clearly visible from Sydney, one of the most populous cities in the country.
As summed up ABCHowever, one would say that «once you see an eclipse, you want to see more». In any case, the important thing is to observe them using particulars precautions in order not to risk damage to eyesight, first of all avoiding looking at the Sun with the naked eye. There are glasses produced specifically for this purpose on the market, while if you resort to do-it-yourself solutions it is good to be very careful. Anyone wishing to stream Thursday’s eclipse in Australia can do so on NASA YouTube channel.
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