A rare and spectacular celestial event will be visible across Australia today: a total solar eclipse. It happens when the moon passes directly between the sun and Earth, blocking out the sun’s light and casting a shadow on Earth’s surface. This shadow is known as the “umbra”, and the area beneath the shadow, where the total eclipse can be seen, is called the “path of totality”.
The path of totality for the 2023 total solar eclipse is set to begin today at about 10am in Western Australia (12pm AEST), near the town of Exmouth, and will travel across the north of the country, where it will be at its most impressive. The path will be about 140 kilometres wide and last for just over three minutes at its maximum point.
For those lucky enough to be within the path of totality over in WA, at around 11:30am AWST the sky will darken, and the temperature will drop. Stars and planets will become visible, and the corona – the sun’s outer atmosphere – will appear as a glowing halo.
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“You look up where the sun is – where life-giving heat is provided, which has always been there every day of your life – and suddenly there’s this jet-black hole surrounded by this ghostly white corona. It’s terrifying,” astronomer Andrew Jacob, a curator at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney, tells Broadsheet.
For those south of Exmouth – i.e. the vast majority of Australians – things will be slightly less impressive today.
“The rest of Australia will see a partial eclipse, like a bite taken out of the sun,” Jacob says. “The moon is moving gradually across the sun but for most of Australia it [won’t] cover the whole of the sun.”
While it might not be as spectacular for most major cities as it will be in far-north WA, an eclipse of this nature is still something pretty special to witness, and a good reminder of our place in the universe.
The eclipse will start to be visible in Adelaide from 12.30pm local time (with the maximum eclipse at 1.30pm), Melbourne from 1.15pm (max at 2.09pm), Sydney from 1.37pm (max at 2.29pm) and in Brisbane from 1.43pm (max at 2.44pm), so make sure to head outside for your lunch break.
For anyone who can’t view the eclipse themselves, the Perth Observatory will have a livestream direct from Exmouth, with experts providing insights and commentary as it unfolds.
This is the first total solar eclipse to be visible from Australia since 2012, and it is a rare opportunity for Australians to witness one of the most awe-inspiring natural phenomena that our solar system has to offer. The next opportunity won't come up until 2043.
Just remember: looking directly at the sun is a bad idea, even when it’s partially hidden behind the moon. Special eclipse glasses or filters must be used to view the eclipse safely.
This article was originally published on March 3, 2023 and has been updated.