Mid-Eclipse

Auzzie Outback Eclipse: 4 Dec 2002

Diamond Ring

Here is the report of my Auzzie Outback adventure travelling overland from Alice Springs to Adelaide from 30 Nov to 7 Dec 2002. The eclipse itself was seen from Lyndhurst, South Australia, a small Outback town consisting of little more than a road house and 3 houses some 600 km north of Adelaide.

This page gives a flavour of the days surrounding the eclipse, and describes the eclipse itself in some detail. For full albums of pictures covering the marvels of the Outback please follow the links provided in the text (or from this index). All links open in a new window so you can inspect the pictures then close the album without losing your place on this page.

The pictures in the albums have to be small because there are so many of them to fit into the space available - do not believe it where the heading says Click for full size! I can supply slide shows of any album at medium size (800 x 800 pixels) or full sized originals of any / all pictures (typically 1600 x 1200 = 0.4 to 0.8MB) - please contact me.

Itinerary:-


Day 1: All Aboard the Wayward Bus

The time: 7am, the place: Alice Springs, central Australia. Courtesy of Wayward Bus, a select group of 8 gathered to face the Outback and catch a total eclipse of the Sun, though our driver, Dave, did not know about the latter yet!

Our first port of call was King's Canyon, a spectacular gorge about 250km from Alice by road. We quickly came to realise that this sort of distance is just round the corner by Australian standards.

The walk up the escarpment to the rim of the canyon presented something of a challenge to those of us as yet unaccustomed to the searing heat and blazing sun. However, the walk was worth it for the spectacular scenery, a blissfully cool swim in a shady pool at the top, and the sense of achievement at the end.

King's Canyon

A true example of the Auzzie "Red Centre": a set of sandstone crags made even redder by the light of the setting sun.

That night was spent at an exquisite campsite at King's Creek, complete with sitting around a blazing campfire and sleeping under the stars. No need for tents or swags here, and even a sleeping bag was too hot.

But what a sky to sleep under! With the clear desert air I don't think that I have ever seen so many stars, the sight made all the more wonderful by the unfamiliarity of the Southern sky - the faintly glowing Zodiacal light to the west after sunset, and in the south the two ghostly nebulous patches of the Magellanic Clouds (hard to believe, but these are complete galaxies comprising millions of stars). Orion was rising in the east (disconcertingly up side down!) and 4 meteors shot across the sky during the night. Later in the night the beautiful band of the Milky Way stretched overhead and before dawn, Venus and a crescent moon graced the Eastern sky.


Day 2: Talking Heads

Up reasonably early for another long drive to Uluru - Kaja Tjuta National Park, home of Ayer's Rock (or Uluru as we must learn to call it to avoid upsetting the locals) and The Olgas. The aboriginal name for The Olgas is Kaja Tjuta, which translates roughly as talking heads, for this massive series of rounded rock formations resembles a collection of bald heads huddled together as if in conversation.

Kaja Tjuta

A distant view of Kaja Tjuta, across typical Red Centre Outback terrain.

The evening picture above appears quite relaxed, but our attempt to walk the Valley of the Winds within the Olgas were curtailed due to the route being closed off because of the fierce heat earlier in the afternoon. There is little in the way of shade here, but we did explore some of the canyons.

From here we hurried back to Uluru to catch our first sunset on the Rock, though in my opinion the distant view of The Olgas beneath the sunset was more impressive than the Rock itself.


Day 3: We Will Rock You

The time: 4am, rudely awoken by Dave to get our asses into the bus for a prime viewing spot to witness sunrise at Ayer's Rock. In fact we were so early that the officious woman who manned the gates into the park would not let us in until 5am, and had us waiting for 20 minutes while she tidied her hair and gave the pretence of being busy.

A good spot was indeed secured, other vehicles being summarily shooed away lest they spoil our view. With Venus and a thinner crescent Moon (two and a half days before New and the Eclipse) already well risen the Sun rose into a clear eastern sky and illuminated the rock with a changing show of colours.

Uluru

Uluru at dawn: the Sun has now risen by several minutes, but a series of earlier pictures (with apologies to Heleen who appears in unflattering positions in several of them!) show the changing colours just before and after sunrise.

We celebrated our success with a fine breakfast of barbecued waffles and syrup.

Those who wanted to upset the aboriginals by climbing the rock were denied the opportunity due to it being closed because of forecast rain. With soaring temperatures and relentless sunshine this seemed hard to believe, though later in the afternoon a series of thunderstorms, preceded by an awe-inspiring dust-storm, did indeed lash the plains. However a good walk all around the base of the rock (some 5 km) was done by lunchime.

From a lookout near the campsite we were denied a decent sunset on the Rock as intended as clouds prevented the Sun illuminating it. However, looking west the effect of the dust and rain created a magical sunset over Kaja Tjuta, with the clouds lit up in a magnificent array of golds, pinks, reds and purples as the Sun went down.

Sunset over Kaja Tjuta

Sunset over Kaja Tjutu, from Ulara. Took several pictures, all different in what they show, so difficult to choose just one to represent the scene. No filter, honest!

The Olgas are some 40 km away, and somebody at the lookout commented how the right hand side resembles the profile of Homer Simpson.


Day 4: Going Underground

Dave was now persuaded that to see the Eclipse would be A Good Thing so two long days of driving south were to follow. Today comprised some 750 km to Coober Peedy, Australia's best known opal mining town.

The name translates from the aboriginal as White Mans' Burrows, on account of most people living in caves excavated in the soft rock to escape the heat. Traditionally old mines were turned into homes, but now that mining is no longer allowed in the town itself, the same drilling equipment is used to make purpose built homes, some of which pay for their own construction if you happen to strike it rich as you build it.

Subterranean drinking

Drinking in the Desert Cave Hotel. L to R: Jack, Julian, Yet Wha, Linda & Dave.

The swirly patterns on the wall are the marks left by the cutting blades of the mining machines - the only acceptable wall covering is a coat of varnish to stabilise the rock.

Following a Greek meal above ground, subsequent drinking and sleeping were carried out underground as befitting the character of the town.


Day 5: Total Eclipse of the Sun

Following a whistle-stop tour of the town and the obligatory mine / opal shop tour we were on the road again for the 500 kms to Lyndhurst for the eclipse. On dirt tracks now we covered the 168km to William Creek at breakneck speed, stopping only to inspect the Dog Fence, the longest fence in the world that separates north from south Australia. The poor bus and its passengers did not know what hit them as we careered over dips, creek beds and corrugations in the rough track, time to slow down now being a luxury we could not afford. However, Toyota Coasters are made of sterner stuff and despite the battering it appeared to survive without major damage, apart from a severe shot blasting of the paintwork.

To give some idea of the remoteness of William Creek, we did not see another vehicle on our entire journey there, and indeed only a handful on the subsequent Oodnadatta Track to Maree and Lyndhurst. It lies in a cattle station whose area is greater than that of Belgium, and consists of a pub, half a dozen houses, a golf course (easy on caddies, the only club required is a sand wedge!) and a rocket graveyard.

Crash Landed!

Rocket Graveyard at William Creek. This area is down range of the Woomera Rocket Range so various pieces of hardware periodically fall from the sky.

The cylinder on the left is the first stage of a Blue Streak rocket, the only British rocket ever to put a satellite into orbit. Just one, mind you - so much for Britain's contribution to the space race! However, the range is now playing host to a new generation of hypersonic ram-jets that may one day power planes into space.

Following lunch at William Creek, with the flies doing their hardest to make our lives an absolute misery (just what do they do when we are not around to be tormented by them?), we picked up the Oodnadatta Track for the journey to Lyndhurst. Although unsealed it was a good deal smoother that the road from Coober Peedy and we made good progress, following the line of the old Ghan railway, stopping briefly at Lake Eyre and other hot spots on the way.

First Contact

Passing Farina Station (cattle, that is, not trains) 23km north of Lyndhurst we were at last in the zone of totality, so even if the bus broke down now we were at least guaranteed to see something of totality. The evidence of the impending eclipse was evident from here on, initially just a few 4WDs parked on low hills with their owners, but further south the numbers of vehicles grew, until eventually the roadside was packed with them, plus their occupants, picnic tables and chairs, and the occasional telescope or camera on a tripod.

At around this time First Contact took place, when the Moon first begins to take a bite out of the Sun (6.43pm local time, 08:13 UT). Although the sky was beautifully clear, we did not see it as we still had a little further to go on our journey.

The intention had been to park up at the Ochre Pits, 5km north of Lyndhurst, and practically bang on the centre line for maximum duration of totality. However, in wanting to meet up with a couple of other Waywards tours, a diversion to the Pits car park revealed them not to be there but in Lyndhurst itself. This would mean some 4 seconds less totality, officially calculated to be 26 seconds at Lyndhurst. Back on the road again we reached Lyndhurst (normal population 23, today more like 23,000), and parked up next to another Wayward bus.

We had the entire Outback at our disposal to stand in, but with time now of the essence we simply made our way up a nearby patch of high ground. Despite its proximity to the road, nobody else had occupied it, maybe because it involved clambering over a low but rusty wire fence. For viewing this location was perfect, but for photography it was hopeless as it exposed us to the full force of a strong, gusty wind. My camera shook on its tripod, and with exposures of substantial fractions of a second needed through the welder's glass filter for the partial phases, the images were far too blurred.

Grabbing mugs of wine brought for the occasion, those of us intent on photography scrambled down to a nearby creek bed, which protected us from the worst of the wind - although quite a lot of pictures were still ruined, plenty have little or no blurring, the first of which shows the Sun partially eclipsed, 21 minutes after 1st Contact, 37 minutes to go until totality.

 

Partial eclipse at 7.04pm local (08:34 UT) through No. 14 Welder's Glass filter.

Minolta Dimage 7, 49.1mm, 1/6s @ f/8, ISO200.

Longish exposures like this one were more prone to wind shake but unfortunately were necessary because the aperture had to be kept small (larger f-number). This was because the filter, constructed from a 1999 eclipse viewer and held in place with a Cokin filter holder, was too small to cover the entire camera lens. Prior testing in the UK revealed that at wider apertures the surrounding cardboard caused a loss of image quality.

Partial phase at T - 37 mins

As the minutes ticked by little change could yet be seen other than by the use of viewers, though the temperature was by now dropping noticeably and the wind seemed to be getting worse, perhaps caused by the temperature differential. By making holes with our fingers or using my binoculars we were able to cast crescent-shaped images of the sun on the banks of the creek but at no time did I spot the elusive "shadow bands" that people sometimes see near to totality.

With just a few minutes to go, there was a suggestion of the sky getting darker, though I suspect that this was as much to do with the Sun's declining altitude as the eclipse itself - the official altitude of the Sun at totality was to be just 4.5 degrees.

 

Partial eclipse at 7.38pm local (09:08 UT) through No. 14 Welder's Glass filter. Just 3 minutes to go until 2nd Contact (Totality!).

Minolta Dimage 7, 49.1mm, 1/4s @ f/8, ISO200.

Partial Phase at T - 3 mins

However, in the last 2 to 3 minutes a very real darkening of the sky began to occur and this precipitated a general increase in the excitement of everyone present. Despite the Sun's low altitude it was still far too bright and dengerous to look at other than with filters, a situation that was to cause me to waste valuable seconds during totality (as explained in a moment) but at least the wind began to ease once the temperature stopped falling.

Second Contact

In the dying seconds before totality a great cheer went up and all across the hillside to the left of where we stood flashes went off as people took pictures. To my mind, in comparison to the 1999 eclipse, the arrival of totality seemed to be irritatingly delayed, with the Sun too thin to show properly through the viewer yet still too bright to see without it.

This was the Bailey's Beads phase, as the last vestiges of the Sun's bright surface (photosphere) became progressively extinguished by the encroaching Moon. It seemed to go on for ever, but in reality probably about 6 seconds judging by the time stamps of my pictures.

At last totality was upon us and the beautiful silvery corona was revealed. I noticed immediately that it seemed to have a strange box shape, with two vertical sides, and the longer exposure photos bear this out. The sky was dark but by no means black, more a dark grey-blue. It was lighter to the north and south, being lit by daylight from beyond the zone of totality. The scene was magical though not as strange as 3 years ago - perhaps because this was now my second totality, but also with the Sun so low the darkness seemed less unnatural than when the Sun was high in the sky.

Meanwhile my efforts were to be firmly on photography this time, having taken no pictures in 1999 and with so little time to enjoy the sight visually on this occasion. I slid the filter out of the way of the camera lens in its Cokin holder and began to execute my pre-planned bracket of exposures to capture as many aspects of totality as possible.

Of course, in the excitement and haste things did not go to plan and I was quickly alarmed at how close the Sun was to the lip of the creek. With the filter in place I had not noticed the precarious situation because whilst I was OK the camera was lower down on its tripod.

The price of avoiding the wind was almost to miss the critical part of the eclipse. Therefore after firing off the first few exposures I had to sacrifice valuable seconds raising the tripod to clear the Sun from the obstruction. The animation that follows shows the effect of this, but this is the most complete shot I achieved of the corona.

 

Total eclipse at 7.41pm local (09:11 UT), 24 seconds into totality. Some streamers in the outer corona can be seen radiating away upwards, through the inner corona is lost in over exposure. The narrow chromosphere is also over exposed but its presence is revealed by the pinkish tinge to the top and left side of the moon.

Minolta Dimage 7, 49.1mm, 1/3s @ f/8, ISO200 (no filter).

Totality at T + 21 seconds - click for bigger version

Third Contact

Before we knew it there was a rapid brighnening of the lower left side of the Moon and sunlight burst back onto the scene with a magnificent Diamond Ring. Rapidly the Sun became too bright to look at again, but at the risk of damaging my camera I continued with a series of unfiltered shots with rapidly shortening exposures to catch the diamond ring, inner corona and chromosphere.

This is a nice one that conveys some impression of the sheer brightness of the returning Sun while revealing some pink fiery prominences to the top right. These are flares standing well proud of the Sun's surface for they have not yet been eclipsed despite the photosphere already appearing on the opposite side of the Moon.

 

Diamond Ring at 7.41pm local (09:11 UT), approx. 5 seconds after 3rd Contact

Minolta Dimage 7, 49.1mm, 1/180s @ f/8, ISO200 (no filter).

Diamond Ring - click for fuller version

Once I considered it too dangerous to continue with unprotected photography I slid the filter back into place to take some shots of the Sun's increasing appearance again. Not so many good shots were taken of this phase owing to time spent congratulating ourselves and toasting our good fortune. In addition the wind returned with avengeance and I now had to move my camera back out of the creek because the Sun really was too low now to be seen from it.

Nevertheless I achieved some decent shots, and especially those of a very intruiging sunset just 20 minutes after 3rd Contact. As the Sun went down the horns of the still partially eclipsed Sun became separated, giving the impression of two suns setting.

A fitting end to an impressive spectacle.

 

Sunset at 8.02pm local (09:32 UT), 21 minutes after 3rd Contact

Minolta Dimage 7, 49.1mm, 1/500s @ f/8, ISO100 , 2 Cokin graduated neutral density filters.

For a full set of pictures I took of the eclipse see here.

A double sunset - click for a bigger picture

While you have been enjoying the commentary above, hopefully this animation (GIF, 525KB) has finished loading. It includes the entire sequence of decent shots I achieved, starting with an uneclipsed Sun right through to sunset. Tthe partial phases are greatly speeded up, though totality is roughly only half the actual time it actually took, though the pictures were not taken at regular intervals.

(If the animation is not running, press F5 or the Refresh button to reload the page)

4 Dec 2002 eclipse sequence 6.04pm local (08:34 UT) to 7.04 (09:34 UT).

Minolta Dimage 7, 49.1mm, various exposures @ f/8, ISO200 except for sunset 100; filters: No. 14 Welders for partial, none for total, 1 or 2 Cokin graduated neutral density for sunset.

Once the show was over people began to head home, in our case to Angorichina in the Flinders Ranges. A big Glastonbury style festival was held near Lyndhurst so many thousands did not have far to go, but those travelling south had to contend with traffic the likes of which the Outback had never seen before.

Let The Other Rush

Let The Others Rush: Wayward's slogan but nothing could have been further from the truth in our mad dash to reach the eclipse in time. Note the stream of headlights of cars returning south from nearer the centre line.


Day 6: Relax

A day with no driving! Time to recharge batteries and wander up the creek and make a splash in Blinman Pools. Blinman Pools


Day 7: Up Where We Belong

An bumpy cycle ride followed by a relatively short journey to a new campsight near Wilpena Pound, further south in the Flinders Ranges. This magnificent natural bowl some 5 x 8km across is fortified by forbidding outward facing cliffs and is best seen from an energetic climb up to the rim or from the air - I managed both.

Wilpena Pound

Wilpena Pound from the air. It looks small here in the clear early morning air but climbing the 1,000+ ft ramparts in the Ozzie heat is another story!

Resembling a meteor crater the Pound is in fact a natural syncline formed from hard Rawnsley Quartzite. This rock has shale bands that contain fossils of the oldest known multi-cellular animal life, famous to geologists as the Ediacara Fauna. I did not know about the shale layers until after my climb so did not see the creatures themselves, but their burrows and tracks were much in evidence in the quartzite itself.


Day 8: People Move On

The final leg of the journey through Quorn and the wineries of the Clare Valley and back to civilisation in Adelaide. Here we were dropped off at our various places to stay, but nearly all of us met up for a meal in the evening. Many of us continue to remain in contact and I expect the memories and friendships to last a long time. Thanks to everyone for making the trip so enjoyable and to Waywards for making it happen.

Group Photo

Official Group Photo; Parachilna, Sat 7 Dec 2002

Rear L to R: Victor, Julian, Phil, Charlotte, Jack & Heleen; Front / seated L to R: Edwin, Dave (our intrepid driver), Edwin's friend (name I can't remember), Yet Wha, Linda & Kazumi. Edwin, his friend and Kazumi were not amongst the original 8 from Alice and joined en route from other tours, but in time to see the eclipse.


Back to 1999 Eclipse Solar Eclipse Home 31 May 2003


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