Solar Eclipse 14 November 2012

The total eclipse in Cairns was an opportunity too good to miss. Even though the weather around Cairns this time of the year was always going to be dicey it was unthinkable not to be there. I almost took the whole family along but that proved to be too hard with the kids in school busy with tests and final assignments so I left them home and made the trip in a 41 hour marathon session. Flying from Adelaide – Brisbane – Cairns took up a whole morning. After stocked up on food and something to drink, I drove from Cairns to Mt Carbine, about 150km by road towards the west. The idea was to get away from the clouds that accumulate every morning along the coast and the ranges. I drove around for an hour before sunset to find a nice spot and eventually decided on an open patch of dirt next to the Mulligan Highway where other people have already set up camp. There were all kinds of people there; a large crowd from St Petersburg and two Japanese eclipse chasers (with 12 eclipses under their belt !). The locals from North Queensland and Perth were very friendly and we shared many stories under the clear night sky.

We kept ourselves busy taking photos of the clear night sky until the clouds rolled in. With nothing else to do I tried to sleep in my litle Hyundai Getz. I bit of advice to everyone, never try that, it is impossible. At one stage around 2am I looked out again and found that all the clouds have dissappeared and it was a perfect and very dark night.  Set up again with my Canon 600D and tripod and took a lot of  photos. I have Magic Lantern installed on the camera to assist with a few great features such as focussing, intervalometer, bulb timer and others. If you have a Canon EOS camera, check it out at http://www.magiclantern.fm/ .

I was not used to the pure dark skies and was worried at one stage that there was something wrong with my camera as I did not get the same results as I was getting in Adelaide. I then realised that because there was absolutely no skyglow from light pollution that everything was in fact working perfectly. I was’nt set up for long exposures and tried taking multiple short (6 second) exposures with a 50mm f/1.8 lens. I got some great photos out of that and I am still busy processing them. Will post them here later if they turn out good enough.

This is an image of the Orion constellation consisting of 27 seperate exposures of 6 seconds each. I used Iris to align and stack the images.

When the eclipse started at 5:44am, the sun was still behind low clouds and we missed the first 11 minutes after first contact. Eventually the sun and moon rose up behind the clouds like two guilty teenagers and we were treated to a perfect view of the rest of the event. Totality was around two minutes long and in my opinion the corona was not as developed as a previous eclipse that I saw in Africa on 21 June 2001. The corona not even extended out visually to a solar diameter. Previously I saw the corona to about 2.5 diameters. It was still spectacular!

I planned to take a complete series of photos of totality with different exposures to allow me to combine images to form a HDR type image of the sun’s corona. My planned exposure times started at 1/500 and went right up to 1/2. Unfortunately I mucked it up by taking to many duplicate images at the fast exposures so that I never got to the slower exposures. The photos I got turned out all right though and I am not too unhappy about it. Next time (and there will be a next time) I will have two cameras set up for partial and totality and prevent the mad scramble to get filters on and off. I might even try to have a program such as APT 2.0 to help me with automatic exposures but that carries a huge risk in itself of something going wrong. Many people had serious problems with their laptop / camera integration and they have nothing to show for it now.

I am already thinking about the annular eclipse next year  in May, also in North Queensland. I may do it all again as I have not seen an annular eclipse yet. This time I might go with a larger lens and a better solar filter that will allow me to get more detail of the sun’s surface.

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