Solar eclipse set to cast its shadow

A partial solar eclipse in 2012. Picture: JIM KATSIFOLIS

A partial solar eclipse in 2012. Picture: JIM KATSIFOLIS

Australian star-gazers will be treated to a rare celestial spectacle from late Tuesday afternoon, as an annular solar eclipse casts its shadow across the land down under.

Perth will be the first to welcome what will be seen here as a partial eclipse at 1.17pm, followed by Adelaide (3.25pm), Hobart (3.51pm), Melbourne (3.58pm), Canberra (4.08pm), Sydney (4.14pm) and Darwin (4.21pm).

But it is Australia's southern-most state that will get the best viewof the annular eclipse, when the sun is obscured by the moon, creating a "ring of fire" effect. With 72 per cent of the sun covered, Tasmanians will experience the closest to a full eclipse, Dr Brad Tucker from the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Canberra said.

And although Australia will be one of the few places in the world where the eclipse is visible, Aussies won't quite have the box seat.

"The only place you'll be able to get a good annular solar eclipse will be in Antarctica," Monash University ARC Future Fellow Dr Michael Brown told Fairfax Media.

"To get that ring of fire, you need to have everything nicely lined up - the moon, Earth and the sun."

Dr Brown said that "it all depends where on Earth you are at the time".

"The reason we only see a partial eclipse is that we're not perfectly lined up in the centre of it - it's all to do with angles on Earth."

"In this case, the penguins in northern Antarctica will get the best view," he said.

In Australia, Melburnians are set to experience the next best view after Tasmania, unless the forecast rain and cloud interferes.

And although it may be difficult to resist, star-gazers around Australia should make do with pin-hole cameras, "tree shadows" or TV images, or risk burning their eyes, experts have warned.

President of the Astronomical Society of Australia and Associate Professor at the Australian Astronomical Observatory, Michael Hopkins, said star enthusiasts should "absolutely never look directly at the sun" without specialised equipment.

"You can only view the eclipse through special eclipse glasses or a solar filter, such as a piece of polarised glass that limits the amount of light transmitted from the sun."

Dr Brown said using a pinhole camera - where a large piece of cardboard is pierced by a needle or a nail in the centre, allowing the light to pass through the hole and onto a flat surface, such as a wall, projecting a safe image of the sun  -  was a safe alternative for amateur star gazers.

Similarily, looking at the shadows created by leafy trees would also project an image of the eclipse.

Dr Brown said Australia's next full solar eclipse  was due in 2028, in Sydney.

"Sydney has the good fortune to have a total solar eclipse coming," he said.

"It is actually quite rare to be able to view a total eclipse from a major city since you need the city, moon and sun to be almost perfectly lined up."

Tuesday's solar eclipse will be the second major celestial event to grace the Earth this year. Two weeks ago, the moon entered a full lunar eclipse, turning a reddish orange as it passed through Earth's shadow.

The spectacular lunar eclipse on April 15 was the result of the sun, moon and Earth aligning, causing Earth's shadow to fall on the moon.

The Age

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