Being a little bit of an astronomy geek, I was looking forward to this experience since I heard it was happening about twelve months ago.
Strange then that I left booking flights and accomm until two weeks before.
Twelve months is a long time to imagine what this sacred experience might be like, so the last minute threat of clouds produced an anxious prelude. Dinner at the hotel the previous evening was accompanied by bouts of heavy rain, which on any other occasion would've made me pretty happy. It was here that I had my first thoughts of possibly missing this natural event due to nature herself. During the night I woke restlessly, checking the clock with surprise that only half an hour had passed since I last woke and checked.
In the morning I emerged from my room nervously to find the sky was about 60% covered with clouds. At least it wasn't overcast. These discrete cumulus clouds can burn off quickly in the right conditions. I knew deep down my will would make bugger all difference, but it didn't stop me desperately hoping.
I walked along the Esplanade just north of Cairns CBD and the mystery of how many people would actually show up for this was finally revealed. Apparently, 50,000 to 60,000 were flying in, many of which would head north closer to the centre of the projected line of totality. During my last minute planning I struggled to find a car, so I resigned myself to being stuck in Cairns, clouds or not. The one to two kilometre stretch of walkway along the Esplanade was pretty much full of people.
Eventually, optimistically, the clouds opened up enough for a glimpse at what was currently a PARTIAL eclipse. It was 6:27am and totality would commence at 6:40am.
The clouds frustratingly persisted, keeping us all wondering whether we'd see any total eclipse at all. Time was running out and as the moon proceeded to cover ever more of the sun's disc, a star (or planet) became visible.
As 6:40am drew closer, the environment slowly darkened. Hardly noticeable at first, but then it became quite obvious. I was watching the hills and sunlight there was replaced by shadow as it became apparent that, despite the persistent cloud cover, totality was finally underway.
This actual moment that I'd waited a year for - but the scenario I'd imagined since I was a kid - was now happening. Despite the obvious disappointment at the cloud still spoiling the show, a cheer broke out amongst the crowd.
Our location had obviously grown dark, but not quite to the blackness of night-time. This was one of those aspects I'd always wondered about. Despite the darkness on the ground, the sky maintained it's colour. The brighness of the direct sun was obviously gone, but oranges and yellows were still reflected off the clouds and the horizon. It was almost like watching another sunrise, in a sense.
People have wondered whether the moon's shadow racing across the earth's surface is noticeable on the ground. It isn't. The edge of the shadow is blurred so much that things just appear to get darker, although still quite rapidly.
We'd experienced this eerie darkness for at least a minute or so, but it was difficult to tell how long exactly. My excitement had warped my sense of time. Totality here would only last 1-2 minutes and just when we thought hope was lost at seeing it, the clouds parted!
The crowd erupted, reflecting my own joy that we'd managed to sneak a glimpse of the significant portion of this event in the nick of time. We had about five seconds before the upper portion of the sun starting peaking through again and the clouds closed in, obscuring the event completely.
I was surprised by how bright the place was until totality was actually underway. In other words, the moon's influence on the sun's intense brightness was minimal during the partial phase of the eclipse, and didn't seem to have much of an effect until totality. Instead of the light being dimmed slowly, it was almost switched off.
The same was, of course, also true of the reverse. I almost laughed at the mass exodus once the sun started shining brightly again. A 95% eclipse was still underway and most of the punters had their backs to it as they returned to their daily lives.
Of course, that the clouds had taken over again didn't help. The more hardcore astronomy enthusiasts stayed around to enjoy the rest of the show. The clouds caused much less anxiety as it seemed folks were content to relax and wait for them to part, as they did several times during this waning phase of the eclipse.
As if the clouds alone weren't enough to stress onlookers, light rain had fallen several times during the course of the morning as if jesting that the clouds would grow thick enough to abandon any hope of seeing an eclipse at all - partial or total. However, it did produce a nice rainbow :)
Murphy clearly wasn't far away as once the eclipse was over, the sun shone brightly and pretty much uninterupted for the entire day. But as I overheard one punter observe: "it could've been better, it could've been worse."