Australia’s Total Solar Eclipse

This year’s total eclipse of the Sun took place on Nov. 14 and was visible from Queensland, Australia (see the NASA Eclipse Web Site for details).

Gary Spears and I led a tour of 40 people to Australia (Spears Travel – Australia 2012) for the big event. We spent three nights in Sydney visiting the amazing Opera House and day tripping to Featherdale Zoo and the Blue Mountains. My wife Pat checked off a bucket-list item by climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge with Gary’s son Austin.

After Sydney, we flew to a Cairns and bused to Kuranda for two nights camping in Amaroo. The camp was set up by Amaroo owners Don and Judy Freeman and featured comfortable porta-johns (with showers!) and some lavish meals in the mess tent.

Spears Travel 2012 Eclipse Tour

Members of the Spears Travel 2012 Australian Eclipse Tour pose for a celebratory group shot after witnessing totality from Kuranda, Australia.

The day before the eclipse was mostly cloudy with frequent showers. This made it difficult for me to assemble my two equatorial telescope mounts and nine cameras so I worked mostly in the tent. At the nearby observing site, I polar aligned the two mounts using an angle finder and compass while taking into account the magnetic deviation of true north. The mounts then had to be covered in plastic to protect them from the rain.

On eclipse morning, we awoke to heavy clouds and more intermittent showers. Nevertheless, I hauled the rest of my equipment to the observing site. Everything had to be kept under plastic as occasional showers continued during the partial phases that began shortly after sunrise.

We caught our first view of the Sun just two minutes before totality began as a thin crescent appeared in a hole. I realized there was no time to acquire the Sun with my telescope so I powered up the video camera instead. The Sun disappeared from view once more, only a minute before totality. I could see the cloud covered sky growing dark as the Moon’s shadow approached from the west. Suddenly, the light faded and totality began.

The anxious eyes of 1000+ people in Amaroo searched the clouds for some glimpse of the total eclipse. Fortunately, a hole opened up and we managed to see about 45 seconds of corona and chromosphere. My friend Andy Steinbrecher gave a running commentary of the rewarding views through a pair of image stabilized binoculars. I continued shooting video but was unable to execute my coronal imaging program which requires clear sky during totality. (For example, see 2006 Eclipse – Corona Composites)

About 30 seconds before totality ended, the eclipsed Sun disappeared back into the clouds. I knew when 3rd contact occurred because the sky quickly brightened as totality ended.

2012 Total Solar Eclipse from Fred Espenak on Vimeo.

Although I was initially disappointed, I realized that most of the folks in our group were thrilled to have seen something of totality so it wasn’t a complete cloud-out like Quebec (1972) or South Africa (2002).

This was my 24th total solar eclipse. I am already planning for next year’s total eclipse in Kenya (Spears Travel – Kenya 2013) and an annular solar eclipse back in Australia (Melitatrips – 2013 Australia). Visit Solar Eclipse Preview on my MrEclipse Website for a look at upcoming eclipses.

Fred Espenak

2012 Total Solar Eclipse

Espenak shot the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse with an automated camera from Kuranda, Australia.

Comet ISON Discovered

A new comet may become a spectacular naked eye object in November-December 2013. Comet ISON was discovered on Sept. 24 and is currently a faint telescope object in Gemini. According to current predictions, it will brighten dramatically during the later half of 2013 to become the 2nd brightest object in the sky (the Sun is of course the brightest object).

For most of 2013, Comet ISON will be a faint telescopic object but its brightness increases enormously as it approaches the Sun late 2013. Comet ISON reaches perihelion on Nov 29 when it passes within 0.012 AUs of the Sun. At that time the comet will appear near the Sun, but it could be as bright as the Full Moon and visible in the daytime. Quickly moving into the evening sky, ISON could put on a spectacular show for much of December. On Dec 27, the comet makes its closest approach to Earth at a distance of 0.429 AUs. It will then be 80° from the Sun and well placed in northern skies during the evening hours. See Comet ISON Ephemeris for a detailed look at the comet’s geometry in Nov-Dec 2013.

Of course, predicting the brightness of a comet is fraught with uncertainty. Nevertheless, if ISON lives up to its potential it could be one of the brightest comets of all time. This comet is really something to look forward to! Below are a few links for more information on Comet ISON.

Fred Espenak

Path of Comet ISON

Events for December 2012

The following table gives the date and time of important astronomical events for December 2012. The time of each event is given in Greenwich Mean Time or GMT (a.k.a. Universal Time or UT). To convert GMT to Eastern Standard Time (EST) just subtract 5 hours. To convert GMT to other time zones, visit Time Zones. Some of the astronomical terms used in the calendar are explained in Definitions.

 Date    GMT   Astronomical Events for December 2012
------  -----  --------------------------------------------
        (h:m)

Dec 03  01     Jupiter at Opposition 
Dec 04  23     Mercury at Greatest Elongation: 20.6°W
Dec 05  15:35  Regulus 6.1°N of Moon
Dec 06  15:32  LAST QUARTER MOON 
Dec 09  09     Mercury 6.3° of Venus
Dec 09  12:04  Spica 0.8°N of Moon
Dec 10  12:46  Saturn 4.0°N of Moon
Dec 11  13:48  Venus 1.6°N of Moon
Dec 11  15:57  Moon at Ascending Node 
Dec 12  00:44  Mercury 1.1°N of Moon: Occultation
Dec 12  23:14  Moon at Perigee: 357074 km
Dec 13  05:18  Jupiter 4.7°N of Aldebaran
Dec 13  08:42  NEW MOON 
Dec 13  23     Geminid Meteor Shower
Dec 18  09:57  Mercury 5.2°N of Antares
Dec 20  05:19  FIRST QUARTER MOON 
Dec 21  11:12  Winter Solstice 
Dec 22  08     Ursid Meteor Shower
Dec 24  03:19  Venus 5.5°N of Antares
Dec 24  22:27  Moon at Descending Node 
Dec 25  21:19  Moon at Apogee: 406101 km
Dec 26  00:02  Jupiter 0.4°N of Moon: Occultation
Dec 26  04:23  Aldebaran 4.2°S of Moon
Dec 28  10:21  FULL MOON 

Astronomical events calendars for complete years and five time zones are available through the links below.

Time Zones Calendars of Astronomical Events
Greenwich Mean Time 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Eastern Standard Time 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Central Standard Time 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Mountain Standard Time 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Pacific Standard Time 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020

For additional time zones and years, see Astronomical Events Calendars.

The sky events tables were all generated by a computer program I wrote (THINK Pascal running on a Macintosh G4) using Astronomical Algorithms (Jean Meeus).

Fred Espenak