Thousands of tourists are heading to Queensland this week with the hope of seeing a total solar eclipse. It’s estimated that 60,000 people will board hot air balloons, dive boats and cruise ships and line the beaches of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef to watch the eclipse. The event is expected to start at 5:45am on 14 November (local time), but the full eclipse won’t be seen until 6:38am and will last for just two minutes.
The total solar eclipse will see the Moon pass directly between the Earth and Sun – sending the country into total darkness for two minutes. The entire three-hour event will also cause temperatures to drop. The last time Australia had an eclipse was in 2002, and the next is expected in 2023. However, this is the first time a total solar eclipse has happened in Cairns since 710AD, and it will be 2237 before the next one comes.
If the weather allows, the thousands of tourists who flocked to the Aussie state will join residents, scientists and eclipse chasers (aka. umbraphiles) in witnessing one of the Universe’s greatest events. They will be able to see a black disk surrounded by the corona of the Sun. It will best be viewable along the coast between Cedar Bay National Park and Innisfail in the south. Otherwise, viewers will only see a partial eclipse.
Several cruise ships will be anchored in the Cairns area during the eclipse, while a fleet of sailing vessels will also anchor and then depart from Port Douglas as part of an eclipse race. More than 500 people will view the total solar eclipse from some two dozen hot air balloons, which will hover above the Atherton Tablelands. Hikers are also expected to take to the trails in the early morning to watch the event from lookouts like Walsh’s Pyramid and Glacier Rock.
Leanne Coddington, the acting chief executive of Tourism Queensland, says that thousands of people from around the world – tourists, eclipse chasers, scientists and astronomers – will be in the region for the solar eclipse. Three charter flights carrying 1,200 scientists are coming from Japan, and six cruise ships will be anchored off the coast. Scientists will be studying the effects of the eclipse on the Great Barrier Reef’s marine life and the state’s rainforest animals and birds. Astrologists and psychologists will study the effects of the event on humans as natural phenomena, because such events are known to provoke strong emotional responses.
Coddington added that thousands of eclipse chasers will take to the beaches, and one of these will be experiencing his 52nd. Seeing an eclipse is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people, but their eclipse chasers will have several other once-in-a-lifetime experiences – including trips to the region’s beaches and islands, Daintree Rainforest, Great Barrier Reef and meeting local people and animals. Their beaches, tropical islands and wildlife are all natural wonders.
Rob Giason, the chief executive of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, says that this solar eclipse will be great publicity for Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. Bookings are strong, as tens of thousands of people are due to visit the region to watch the event. On top of this, they will have a live broadcast of the eclipse with NASA, which is expected to get a worldwide audience of 20 million people.