Thousands of people are heading to Queensland in the hope of seeing a two-minute solar eclipse in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The eclipse is expected to begin at 05.45 in the far north of the Australian state, with totality occurring at 06.38 on November 14 (20.38 GMT on November 13).
An estimated 60,000 people are expected to view the eclipse above Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef from hot air balloons, cruise ships, dive boats and palm-fringed beaches.
It is the first time that a total solar eclipse has occurred in region since 710AD. The next one will appear in 2237.
An eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, which darkens the sky and causes temperatures to drop.
‘Totality’ – which refers to the darkness that results when the moon completely covers the sun – is expected to last just over two minutes.
If the weather conditions are right, people will see a black disk in the sky surrounded by the sun’s corona.
The total eclipse will be visible along the coast between Innisfail in the south to Cedar Bay National Park about half way between Cape Tribulation and Cooktown. Outside this area, a partial eclipse only will be visible.
Tourism Queensland Acting CEO Leanne Coddington said thousands of people, including scientists, astronomers, eclipse chasers and tourists from around the world, would be in the region to the see the eclipse.
‘Three charter flights with 1200 scientists will arrive from Japan, six cruise ships will be moored off the coast and other scientists will study the effects of the eclipse on the marine life of the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland’s rainforest birds and animals,’ Ms Coddington said.
‘Psychologists and astrologists will also study the effects of the eclipse on humans as natural phenomena such as eclipses are known for provoking strong emotional responses while thousands more umbraphiles (eclipse chasers) will line the beaches of the region, including one who will experience his 52nd eclipse.’
A number of cruise ships will be anchored near Cairns at the time of the eclipse, along with a fleet of sailing vessels, which will depart from Port Douglas as part of the eclipse regatta.
Over 500 people will watch it from around two dozen hot air balloons floating above the Atherton Tablelands while hikers will hit the trails early to arrive at lookouts such as the Glacier Rock and Walsh’s Pyramid.
Kate Russo, who was born in Australia but now lives in Ireland, is heading home for the event. The author and psychologist has travelled the world in search of eclipse events and is heading home to experience an eclipse in her home country.
She says: ‘It’s great to see people flocking to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. There are about 50 as part of a large group coming from Northern Ireland astronomical circles too that I helped encourage with a talk, and photos of my scouting trip two years ago.’
Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Rob Giason said the eclipse would give Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef exposure around the world.
‘Bookings are strong with tens of thousands of people expected in the region to see the event and an estimated worldwide audience of 20 million watching via our live broadcast with NASA,’ he said.
Ms Coddington added: ‘There’s no doubt seeing an eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many, but while they are in Cairns and Great Barrier Reef, our eclipse-chasers will have a number of other once-in-a-lifetime experiences including trips to the Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest, the region’s islands and beaches, and meeting the locals – both animal and human.
‘Our wildlife, tropical islands and beaches are all natural wonders that can be experienced at any time.’