Eclipse from the Stuart Highway, South Australia,  Dec. 4, 2002

by Chris Malicki

Five years ago, my wife's cousin and her family from New South Wales, Au. visited us and I
promised them that we would come see them in Dec. 2002 for the solar eclipse. This would
be my wife Liz's and my 9th total solar eclipse. Well, we kept our word. With the help of Fred
Espenak's eclipse  circular, and with the excellent writeup of the path from Fraser Farrell's
website, I determined far in advance that the best place to observe would be the Stuart highway
near the railway siding of Wirraminna.
Three days before the eclipse, we set out in a van from the Blue Mountains near Sydney through
the length of New South Wales, Mildura in Victoria State, and via Adelaide, to Port Augusta.
Just south of  Port Augusta, on the side of the road was a large sign advertising "eclipse
information". It was a cute stand where volunteers were handing out a 14-page booklet produced
by the S. Australia Tourism Commission entitled: "Eclipse in the Outback". It was nicely printed
with a full page photo of a TSE (? the 2001 eclipse).The booklet stated: "A total eclipse of the
sun is arguably nature's most spectacular and awe-inspiring phenomenon ... it provides a rare
and spectacular experience for those lucky enough to be in the path of totality." and then: "directly
viewing the solar eclipse may cause painless but serious eye damage ... there is no safe way
of directly looking at any eclipse of the sun ... people should not look directly at any eclipse of
the sun." It goes on to say that television and projection can be used. Most unfortunately there
was no statement about observing totality directly.
After spending the night of Dec. 3-4 in Port Augusta we drove with no problems to Woomera
to pick up eclipse souvenirs such as eclipse hats, tee-shirts, and souvenir stamp covers entitled
"Eclipse in the outback, Woomera SA"  The cover had a nice picture of an annular eclipse on it.
The visitor centre in Woomera was inundated with eclipse tourists and had difficulty coping with
the crowd. After waiting in line for half an hour, I was finally able to purchase the items mentioned.
We did not wish to be dependent on the buses in the Woomera Prohibited Area, so we drove to
the railway siding at Wirraminna, with the aid of Fraser's topographic maps and descriptions of
the Stuart highway.  We ended up driving about 2 km. north of the railway siding. Although there
were a number of other vans, cars, tents, the area is so large that our nearest neighbour was at
least one kilometer, or 2 trees away from us. With great difficulty, due to the howling wind, we set
up a tarp, Canadian and Australian flags, and our tents. I estimate our position to be 31deg.
9.75min. south,  and 136deg 05.5min east; i.e.2.5 km. away from the centreline and midway
between the highway and the train tracks.

It was a fabulous clear blue sky, windy and cool with no flies.  We instructed our Australian relatives
on the proper observation techniques, observed the partial phases with a filtered ETX scope.  I find
that most people, esp. first timers do not witness the 1st diamond ring because they do not look at
the sun (or are afraid to) until it is totally eclipsed, and only see the 2nd diamond. However, as in
most eclipses, I have become used to glancing naked eye, unfiltered about 15 sec. before totality
and was again rewarded by seeing the corona first appear out of the brilliant crescent sun and I
saw the beautiful 1st diamond ring at the 1 o'clock position.  29 seconds is a very brief time to
observe totality. The corona had four or five major streamers, fairly symetrical and about one solar
diameter (1/2 degree) long. Polar brushes were evident.  Prominences at 1 o'clock and 7 o'clock
were nice but not as large as in some of the other eclipses I've seen. The chromosphere was
dramatic due to the apparent close fit of the moon with the sun. The third-contact diamond ring
appeared. A few seconds later, Liz and I turned around and saw the thinnest lunar shadow we've
ever seen (only 34 km wide). Liz remarked that it had very well defined edges. We are used to
seeing a huge black wall of a shadow not such a thin finger which very rapidly (in seconds)
disappeared towards the north west.


Finally, we watched and photographed the setting crescent sun. At night I observed the most
brilliant zodiac light I've ever seen, and looked for nebulae and clusters in the Large Magellanic
Cloud.  Finally, a we drove back to the Blue Mountains, 2000 km away seeing hundreds of emus
and kangaroos, and a koala close up on a tree trunk near Siding Spring Observatory.

As Fraser Farrell aptly stated in a newspaper, the brief moment of totality is like the finger of God
briefly touching the world of men. I totally agree (pun intended).

Chris Malicki
 

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