Girls just wanna have sun: Confessions of a compulsive solar eclipse chaser

As a veteran eclipse chaser, I’ve seen eight solar eclipses in trips that have taken me around the world.

Why travel to the ends of the Earth for an event lasting only a few minutes, you ask? Astronomical objects lie far away and change very little from night to night or even from year to year. It’s true it’s always the same moon, same planets, same star clusters, nebulas and galaxies — all looking a bit fuzzy and tiny, even through a telescope. But a total solar eclipse is totally different; suddenly, astronomy becomes incredibly exciting and everything happens fast.

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Dr. Carolyn Sumners (bottom) photographing the HMNS group at the 2009 Total Solar Eclipse in China with fish-eye lens camera.

In a total solar eclipse the moon creeps in front of the sun, and then all at once covers the sun’s photosphere, plunging a tiny part of the Earth into darkness. Those lucky enough to be in this shadow see coronal streamers surrounding the black moon disk — like a glowing crown with red arcs of ionized gas dancing from behind the moon. Suddenly, there’s too much to see and it’s all happening way too fast.

Just as quickly as the darkness comes, daylight returns. As the moon moves past, light from the sun’s photosphere peeks through mountain ranges along the moon’s edge. Called Bailey’s Beads, these tiny flickering lights appear for just an instant before the famous “diamond ring,” when the first bit of the sun’s photosphere is visible once again. Then the protective glasses go on and the sun (with a piece still hidden by the moon) returns the world to daylight.

The Maya worried that the sun would not return after an eclipse, signaling the end of the world — an appropriate thought for an eclipse in the year 2012.

Total solar eclipses are special because they are so rare. The total solar eclipse occurring this Nov. 14 is the only one in 2012, and the only one in an accessible location until 2017. To see a total eclipse, you must usually become a world traveler, and this year is no exception. This eclipse occurs mostly over water at a time when equatorial oceans are largely cloud-covered.

The best viewing is along a strip of the Great Barrier Reef coast around the city of Cairns, Australia on Nov. 14, 2012, an hour after sunrise. And once again, that’s where I’ll be.

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HMNS Trip to View the 2012 Solar Eclipse in Australia: November 10-24, 2012

HMNS has included the 2012 total solar eclipse experience viewed from the coast of Australia near the Great Barrier Reef as part of a two-week tour of the South Pacific that includes Cairns and Sydney, Australia; and Christchurch and Queenstown, New Zealand, with an optional extension to Fiji.

There is an early registration discount of $250 per person for those registered for the trip by May 15! Pricing is $5,699 per person double occupancy with international air and 20 meals, or $3,449 per person double occupancy land-only package, with single and triple room packages available.

Click here for itinerary and registration information.

Travel Night – Australia: Monday, May 14, 6 p.m.

For interested travelers and those already registered, this evening allows you to meet trip leader Dr. Carolyn Sumners, who will provide an eclipse viewing overview, and see a slideshow of the trip itinerary. Our travel agents will be there to answer all questions about the trip.