This week, eclipse hunters visit the small town of Exmouth, at the tip of Western Australia’s Northwest Cape. Weather permitting, they come to one of nature’s greatest attractions – a total solar eclipse on Thursday, April 20.
Whether staying in hotels, resorts or campgrounds, many would have made travel arrangements a year or more in advance. But don’t be too disappointed if you can’t make it; other opportunities to see total solar eclipses coming in the next few years. Here’s what you need to know.
A fully immersive experience
A total solar eclipse occurs on those rare occasions when the Moon is aligned with the Sun and passes in front of it from our vantage point here on Earth. The sun’s bright disk is completely obscured for a short period of time – seconds or minutes. During this time, called totality, eclipse observers will see a dark hole in the sky where the sun had been, surrounded by a faint glow – the corona of our star.
Read more: Explainer: what is a solar eclipse?
This is what eclipse hunters are trying to see. The range of locations where a total solar eclipse will be visible to observers is called the “path of totality”. People often travel thousands of miles to be in the right place at the right time. Not only are they treated to the beautiful sight of the corona, but they are given a completely immersive experience.
The sky soon darkens, the temperature drops, birds stop chirping and animals begin to sleep. The assembled observers, whether from your own group or from distant lands, are united in the experience.
An addictive hobby
There are two warnings associated with total solar eclipses. One is that chasing them is addictive. Often people who have seen their first eclipse want to start planning their second one right away.
I can personally vouch for this – after seeing my first total solar eclipse on December 4, 2002 from the Woomera Rocket Range, I got really excited to observe another one. Watching the corona come into focus around the dark sun was an awe-inspiring experience, enhanced by the fascinating location and the elation of fellow observers. My next solar eclipse was on August 1, 2008 in an even more interesting location – a beach on the shore of the Novosibirsk Reservoir in Siberia; and most recently I saw the eclipse of Far North Queensland on November 14, 2012.
The other caveat is this: The only time it’s safe to look directly at the sun is during the brief period of totality. All other times, during the sub-stages before and after, it is necessary to take precautions.
Specially for this eclipse glasses are available from planetariums, public observatories, amateur astronomy groups, and astronomy shops. Make sure that the glasses have the European CE mark.
Taking pictures is safe, but only during totality unless you have the right filters. A tripod is essential, as the corona is weak and you need long exposures. Seasoned eclipse watchers arrive at eclipse locations packed with professional cameras and telephoto lenses. But if it’s your first time, it’s probably better to just watch and take in the event, rather than trying to photograph it.
Plan ahead and stay mobile
Following this week’s solar eclipse in Australia, the next total solar eclipse will be visible from the United States and Mexico on April 8, 2024. After traveling through Mexico, the path of totality sweeps across the United States from Texas to Maine, before moving to parts of Canada.
There are many potential viewing spots along the trail. However, before choosing a site, it is important to check the “climate reportbefore the solar eclipse. This offers the best chance of avoiding the eclipse observer’s greatest enemy: clouds.
But even with the best advance planning, last-minute clouds are possible. Seasoned observers try to stay mobile so that if the weather forecast is bad for their location, they can move to another location to avoid the clouds.
The total solar eclipse in the US is tracked on August 12, 2026 with a value of path of totality is about Spain and Iceland. Then one comes up August 2, 2027visible from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
An upcoming solar eclipse that interests Australians most is the total solar eclipse July 22, 2028, for which the path of totality runs from WA through the Northern Territory to New South Wales towns such as Bourke, Dubbo and Mudgee before reaching Sydney. It is rare for a large city to find itself on the path of totality, and the five million Sydney residents will get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a total solar eclipse from their home or backyard.
Of course, as with any other solar eclipse, clouds are a possibility, so keep an eye on weather reports closer to the date. For eclipse day, look at the predictions of the Bureau of Meteorology And specialized astronomy websites.
As mentioned earlier, mobility for a total eclipse is essential for serious eclipse observers. For example at the November 14, 2012 solar eclipse in Far North Queensland, a Sydney Observatory group made a last-minute success fly inland to avoid the predicted bad weather.
Clouds aren’t all bad, though. I was there for the same solar eclipse Palm Cove Beach and thankfully the clouds parted just at the beginning of totality. The excitement that came with it made for a fantastic and unique experience.
If you’re not in the Northwest Cape this week and want to experience the wonders of a future total solar eclipse, you may want to start planning now.
Read more: A century ago, Australia was ground zero for eclipse watchers — and helped prove Einstein right