Solar eclipse wows Kiwis

STACEY KIRK AND AMY MAAS
Last updated 12:14 14/11/2012
Fairfax NZ

Thousands throughout the country took a "morning tea break" from work to view the rare event.

Eclipse
JO OTTEY Zoom
Jo Ottey sent in this compliation of the eclipse.

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We might not have gotten the full show, but New Zealand astronomers were not disappointed by the solar eclipse which in some parts saw almost 90 per cent of the sun obscured.

Thousands throughout the country took a "morning tea break" from work to view the rare event, with those in the north of the North Island and Wellington getting the best view, according to the MetService forecasts.

The eclipse - caused when the moon passes directly between Earth and the sun - cast a 150-kilometre wide shadow which started at dawn in Australia's Northern Territory and then crossed the northeast tip of the country before swooping east across the South Pacific.

No islands were in its direct path, so northern Australia was the only land where there was even a chance of seeing the full eclipse, said Sydney Observatory astronomer Geoff Wyatt.

Totality - the darkness that happens at the peak of the eclipse - lasted just over two minutes.

A partial eclipse was visible in New Zealand, with those further north able to see more of the sun covered by the moon.

Auckland began experiencing an 87 per cent eclipse beginning at 9.18am, reaching maximum coverage at 10.28am, and ending at 11.44am.

By 9.30am about 350 people had gathered at Auckland's Stardome Observatory to view the event.

They had telescopes with solar filters set up as well as special glasses to view the sun.

"We have a lot of people outside just watching through their solar glasses and the solar telescopes we have set up," said Stardome's Jo Creagh.

"We've got another crowd inside the planetarium watching an explanation of the solar eclipse, why they happen and what's fascinating about them."

A fuller eclipse was visible in Northland, with the best view - 89.4 per cent - at Cape Reinga.

In Wellington a small but enthusiastic group of astronomers turned out to witness the eclipse on the waterfront and they were treated to a spectacular view for their efforts.

The eclipse, which started about 9.30, had been picked to cover 75 per cent of the sun at its peak for those watching in Civic Square, said Wellington Astronomical Society president John Talbot.

Dozens of keen astronomers lined up on the City to Sea bridge to get the best view of the eclipse - all looking through special pinhole cameras or viewing glasses to protect their eyes.

A special telescope with a funnel out the side was also set up so people could view en masse.

Eight-year-old Alex Telfar brought his own pinhole camera to Civic Square which he'd made at home.

"It's exciting. I've learnt a lot about them," he said.

Enthusiast Jeff Hunt said he was most impressed with the home-made instruments.

"Given its a clear day, it's exciting to see people involved in their own scientific work."

Today's eclipse was the second of 2012, and the most complete eclipse New Zealand will see until July 22, 2028.

As well as viewers flocking to the waterfront in Wellington, the city's Carter Observatory had telescopes with solar filters set up as well as special glasses to view the sun.

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"Solar eclipses don't happen every New Moon because the Moon's orbit about Earth is tilted by five degrees relative to the Earth's orbit around the Sun," said Dr Grant Christie, Stardome astronomer.

"In most months the New Moon passes above or below the sun so no eclipse occurs. But an eclipse will occur when the Moon happens to cross the plane of Earth's orbit close to times of New Moon."

For Auckland's large Indian community the eclipse was significant as it coincided with Diwali, the festival of light.

The eclipse also fell on the 64th birthday of the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, who was in Wellington at the time.

- Stuff

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