The ‘dark side’ of the sun – experiencing a solar eclipse

It was 3 am, dark and pleasantly warm. We were getting up to go to the beach!

  • Towels? Check
  • Camera? Check
  • Food for breakfast? Check
  • Special sunglasses? Check
The beach is dark at 4:30am

The beach is dark at 4:30am (the camera compensated for the low light and brightened the skyline, but you get the idea!)

Our choice of beach was about half an hour’s drive away and we arrived at Palm Beach about 4am. We were not alone – there were a few people about – already relaxing on their towels, laid out on the sand. But why would people be going to the beach at this strange hour? Swimming was definitely not an option as there are stingers and the odd salt water crocodile to discourage the earnest.

Actually, we had come some 2500km (1500 miles) (from the south of Australia to Cairns in the north) to sit on the beach and watch the sun! And because we anticipated being part of many hundreds of thousands of sun seekers on this beach this very day, we wanted to be early.

To be more accurate, we were all gathered, not to see the sun, but to see it disappear completely behind the moon. We were poised to watch one of nature’s most incredible light shows – a total solar eclipse.

Groups of people start arriving at the beach at about 5am

Groups of people start arriving at the beach at about 5am

Our fellow sun seekers grew in numbers as the morning grew from total darkness to the first rays of dawn. The clouds on the horizon teased as they repeatedly built up, then dissipated in the area where the sun was destined to appear.

The weather had actually been teasing for a few days. Sun, then rain, then back to sunshine again. The question on everyone’s lips was “Will we have come all this way to have the eclipse hidden behind the clouds?”

Sunrise

Sunrise at last. But oh no! There is a big cloud hovering right in the way!

Finally, the sun rose in a majestic golden ball. We reached happily for our special eclipse watching glasses, even though we did not really need them just yet. But then, as quickly as it appeared, that majestic orb slipped behind the clouds.

The disappointment amongst the (now very considerable) crowd was almost tangible.

All we could do was wait for the clouds to clear

All we could do was wait for the huge clouds to clear

But there was little we could do except tuck into the breakfast goodies and down a cup of coffee. And wait…….

Anxious photographers fiddled and adjusted their lenses and realigned the tripods for the hundredth time. And we waited some more…..

After nearly an hour, it seemed as if we were going to be disappointed.

Then suddenly, things got brighter. The mood on the beach switched magically as everyone again reached for their special specs.

The sun finally emerges from the clouds

The sun finally emerges from the clouds (inset: view with sun filter on the camera). The eclipse was well underway at this point, but nothing was obvious unless one had special glasses to look directly at the sun.

Mother nature did not disappoint after all. The sun appeared with the moon already well over its face. Then the last vestiges of cloud blew away and we watched expectantly as the moon gradually covered more and more of the sun.

A smile plays on JL's face as she watches

A smile of excitement shows on my daughter’s face as she watches through the special sunglasses and realises that we are about to see the total eclipse after all. The light was almost gone at this point. I think this photo summarises the whole experience – total absorption, joy and fascination.

Then suddenly it felt like very late in the afternoon. It was getting dark. Within minutes, the whole beach was plunged into total darkness. The thousands of people up and down many kilometres of beach involuntarily gave a loud exclamation at the same time and at that moment, we were all a single, bonded entity – absolutely captivated by this incredible event. Then a ripple of clapping followed.

The total solar eclipse. The moon is directly in front of the sun.

The total solar eclipse. The moon is directly in front of the sun.

The total eclipse happened at 6:39am.

It was totally dark - whereas 10 minutes before, we had been in full daylight

It was totally dark – whereas 10 minutes before, we had been in full daylight (again, the camera has tried to brighten the background, but the foreground shows the true darkness)

The stars were visible in the total darkness which lasted only a few minutes.

The sun starts to re-emerge from behind the moon

The sun starts to re-emerge from behind the moon

Then the sun started to re-emerge and it did not take long for the beach to be flooded in sunlight again.

The waning of the eclipse continued for another hour or so, and we stayed right to the end. The clouds had cleared by this time and we were able to track it right to the finish.

Mesmerised observers continue to be fascinated as the eclipse wanes

Mesmerised observers continue to be fascinated as the eclipse wanes (note the tide is now well up the beach!)

So was it worth going so far, and having to get up at 3am to watch this incredible event? Absolutely. It will go down as one of the most awesome things I have ever witnessed.

I would travel around the world to see another one. Luckily for Australia, we are scheduled to have another one in Sydney in 2028.

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29 Responses to The ‘dark side’ of the sun – experiencing a solar eclipse

  1. Some really nice photos here!
    This week’s solar eclipse wasn’t visible in Southern Africa.

    Like

    • Madoqua says:

      Oh, what a pity that you did not get to see it too. But perhaps next time it will be Southern Africa’s turn.
      If you ever get the chance to go to one, do so. It is amazing!

      Like

  2. adinparadise says:

    Fabulous post. Madoqua. What a great experience. Your photos are stunning.

    Like

  3. Carl Milner says:

    Looked an amazing place to see it…Brilliant photos as well

    Like

  4. Colline says:

    Wow! What an amazing experience! I have not had the fortune to see an eclipse. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

    Like

    • Madoqua says:

      Colline, if you ever get the chance to go and watch one, grab it. You won’t be disappointed! (Unless the clouds cover it over – like nearly happened to us! But that is the risk that every ‘umbraphile’ takes!)
      (‘Umbraphile’ is my new word for the week!)

      Like

  5. edelweiss says:

    Its great!
    I wish I would be able to see one-live, sometime!

    Like

    • Madoqua says:

      It is worth finding out where the eclipses will be and trying to get to one.
      I was fascinated to find out the there is a word for ‘solar eclipse followers’ – umbraphiles. The article I was reading suggested that the eclipse will have created a whole new generation of umbraphiles. I am definitely one of them!

      Like

  6. mudlips says:

    Wow, what an amazing experience. I especially liked the description of the connection felt with the others; it felt like one of that moments when you realize everything wonderful about the world at once.

    Like

    • Madoqua says:

      I have certainly never experienced something like this ever before. Total fascination and awe at the very same instant by many thousands of people!
      It gave me a real buzz!

      Like

  7. scrapydo says:

    This is awesome! I did not have my camera with me but I was part of the experience here in Upper Hutt NZ. I am going to reblog this if you don’t mind!?

    Like

    • Madoqua says:

      Scrapydo, I am delighted that you enjoyed the post so much. Since you have seen an eclipse, you can probably identify with the ambience and the feeling of awe.
      What a shame you did not have your camera at the time. However, there is also a big positive in that you could just watch and soak it all in, without the distraction of trying to capture that perfect shot.

      You are very welcome to reblog this!
      Thank you – I am honoured!

      Like

  8. scrapydo says:

    Reblogged this on scrapydo and commented:
    Awesome photos!

    Like

  9. Amy says:

    Wow, awesome! Lucky for Australia.

    Like

  10. Marianne says:

    How wonderful – and what lovely photos you took so that we could all share in your excitement, Madoqua. 🙂

    Like

  11. I’m so thrilled to have a firsthand account of that magical morning! I saw the pictures on the TV, of course, and listened to the scientists talk about it, but to see the photographs of the scene, and especially the other onlookers reminds me how connected we are to our earliest ancestors, who will have stood on similar beaches, cowering in the gathering darkness but unable to drag themselves away from such an awesome demonstration of the mysteries of the universe. Terrific post. 🙂

    Like

    • Madoqua says:

      Thanks so much for your appreciative words Wanderlust!
      I was actually surprised at my own reaction – I had heard about the way things go dark in an eclipse, but never thought I would actually experience it. It was very eerie.
      It must have been very frightening for people who weren’t expecting it and did not know what it was. Without the solar specs, there was nothing to see until it was in full eclipse. Then, the view of the sun with a black centre must have seemed like something very ominous.

      Like

      • On top of which, the adventurous among them – who looked – will have been blinded, if only temporarily! It’s really a primal experience, I think- akin to the sightings of Haley’s Comet embroidered into the Bayeaux tapestry, but millennia older.

        Like

        • Madoqua says:

          Yes, they certainly would have had trouble trying to see what was going on. In fact, without the special glasses, you can’t see anything, except right in the middle of the eclipse when the sun is totally hidden.

          Like

  12. You had me with this one also…i always look to the heavens, i try to capture with my I-Phone every different sunrise or sunset or dancing image of clouds that i can.. your photos are wonderful and i am in a pefect bliss as read your words and embrace your shots…thanks for the blessing!

    Like

    • Madoqua says:

      There were certainly a lot of people gazing at the sky that morning in Northern Queensland! I had a look to see where the next total eclipse will be. Next year, one will have to have a sturdy boat, it is well off the horn of Africa, over the Atlantic Ocean!

      Like

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