Trio witness total annular eclipse in Australia

sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comMay 20, 2013 

A total solar eclipse is a pretty rare sight, but a total annular eclipse is truly a rare one.

The moon moves in orbit between the earth and the sun and blocks the sun from view in a solar eclipse. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon's orbit is further from the earth, and when it aligns with the sun, it allows a "ring of fire" to appear.

This year, the only place to see the total annular eclipse was in Australia on May 10. To be specific, in the northeast section of Queensland.

That's where Michael Johnson, the Coca-Cola Space Science Center's educational outreach specialist; Matt Bartow, CSU student and another CCSSC employee; and Cameron McCarty, CSU student and part-time CCSSC employee, come in.

The trio went to Coen, Australia, and set up cameras and equipment to track the annular eclipse.

McCarty said they were gone from May 4-13.

Shawn Cruzen, the executive director of the CCSSC, was glad two students were able to make the trip.

"Matt and Cameron are students in our astrophysics studies," Cruzen said. "I want to be able to send students to gain that experience. That's what I

do here -- to try to make those opportunities."

McCarty, 21, said they arrived to Australia a few days earlier than the eclipse to get the lay of the land.

"We went to Cairns, and drove up the coast about 700 kilometers (a little more than 430 miles) until the road ends," McCarty said. "It was a lot of fun, but it was certainly a journey."

"You can't pick where you can see eclipses," Cruzen said.

The first few days they set up equipment and did a couple of dry runs. They also met many people who live in Coen, which has about 300 residents.

The men went to an elementary school and worked with students in kindergarten to third grade.

"We showed them what we do," McCarty said. "Some of them had never seen the sun directly" through a telescope, which they took to the school. "It was one of the really cool experiences."

But on May 10, they did what they went to Australia to do -- they went to the viewing site at 5 a.m. to set up the equipment. The eclipse began at 7:22 a.m. and ended at 9:23 a.m.

During the live webcast, the trio took questions from viewers from all over the world.

"We got questions from Argentina, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and Japan," McCarty said. "It was truly a worldwide event. It was really cool."

Questions were from students, teachers, university students and "some regular people." More than 130,000 people from more than 180 countries watched the webcast, Cruzen said.

The recorded webcast can be seen on the CCSSC's website.

McCarty is studying urban space science, with emphasis in astrophysics and planetary geology. Bartow, 27, is a part-time CSU student, majoring in astrophysics.

A senior, McCarty is planning on going to graduate school and then doing research at a university or working at a science center like CCSSC.

When he learned that one of his photos of the eclipse was chosen as NASA's Astronomical Photo of the Day, he was thrilled.

"It's very much an honor," he said.

This annular eclipse was the second that could be seen in Australia in a year, which is extremely unusual, McCarty said. The next solar eclipse can be seen in Africa on Nov. 3. This one is a hybrid, or a real rarity.

Next year, a total annular eclipse can be seen in Australia and Antarctica on April 29. Another one can be seen in Africa and over the Indian Ocean on Sept. 1, 2016, and on Feb. 26, 2017, over South America and Africa. Another annular eclipse won't be seen until Dec. 26, 2019, over Asia and Australia.

In 2017, a total solar eclipse may be seen in much of the United States, Cruzen said. The best place to see will be in the Tennesee-Kentucky area. Cruzen said Chattanooga would be the closest place someone from our area can go to see the total solar eclipse.

McCarty said he began getting interested in science as a youngster, attending a Montessori School. Then in 2001, his family moved to Columbus. His late father, Dave, was a graphic designer at CCSSC.

McCarty spent much of his childhood wandering through the CCSSC, getting an early education in astronomy.

Cruzen is one of McCarty's biggest influences.

"He really sparked my interest," McCarty said.

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