Sep 21, 2023

Thousands in awe as solar eclipse hits totality over the skies of northern Western Australia

Years of planning, millions of dollars in preparation and thousands of hours of travel have come to a head over Western Australia, with thousands left in awe by a total solar eclipse.

The hybrid solar eclipse has enamoured professionals and amateurs alike, as scientists hope to use the event to learn more about space weather. Look back on Thursday's updates.

In Exmouth, 1,200 kilometres north of Perth, thousands of visitors made the most of being in the best place on Earth to witness the eclipse at totality.

An enormous cheer went up at the special viewing site, around 20km out of town, as totality was reached.

NASA Astronomer Dr Henry Throop was particularly ecstatic.

"It was so fantastic, it was mind-blowing," he said.

"It was so sharp, it was so bright, you could see the corona around the sun.

"It was only a minute long, but it felt like a long time."

Thousands of people gathered from Onslow in the Pilbara to Coral Bay and Carnarvon in the Gascoyne.

While in Perth, office workers downed tools and stepped outside to experience the moment, with crowds gathering at Elizabeth Quay.

At Perth observatory, just over 200 people gathered to watch a live stream of the eclipse.

Observatory volunteer Tilly was excited to see the enthusiasm of children checking out the eclipse.

"They come and have a look and it's great," she said.

"Who knows, one of these people may go to Mars!"

Mark Cheung was in just as much awe as everyone else on hand in Exmouth.

"You saw just the crescent, as if the sun was smiling at us," Dr Cheung said.

"It was one of the most spectacular eclipses we've seen, and we had the perfect location and weather for it."

But the CSIRO's Deputy Director for Space and Astronomy had his mind firmly on the science as well.

Teams of scientists on the ground used specialised equipment to observe and analyse the sun's corona, solar wind and much more during the eclipse.

"The reason we need a total eclipse to observe the corona is that it's about a million times dimmer than the sun," Dr Cheung said.

"By understanding solar wind and the corona, we can potentially have a better understanding of space weather — what the sun does that causes it around the Earth."

The fine weather forecast since the start of the week held firm, with sunny conditions and a top of 30 degrees Celsius.

The atmosphere in Exmouth — normally home to just under 3,000 permanent residents — has been electric, with visitors arriving from all over the world.

For dedicated eclipse chaser Kryss Katsiavriades, totality is one of the most incomparably unique moments it is possible for someone to experience.

"Totality is the masterpiece," he said.

"It doesn't need music, it doesn't need fireworks — it's more than sufficient to hold its own."

"The sky colour starts to change, it becomes a very intense blue," Mr Katsiavriades said.

"It starts to look like evening in the middle of the day."

Liam Dorney and Elien Wijns said eclipses have played a formative role in their relationship.

The pair met at a total solar eclipse in Cairns in 2012, and have chased four as a couple.

"We both sort of felt like it was a religious experience," Mr Dorney said.

"It was so beyond us, it just really encompassed everything."

The couple were engaged during the Faroe Islands eclipse in 2014, married in the USA in 2017 and have brought their 10-month-old son Wolfe to witness is first eclipse in Exmouth.

"We're quite excited to pass on the tradition," Ms Wijns said.

"He's only 10 months; I guess he won't remember much from it, but it will be his introduction."

While Exmouth was the best and most accessible place to watch the eclipse, some groups took additional steps.

Eclipse chaser Tim Todd and a group of dedicated travellers, including scientists and veterans of more than 30 solar eclipses, set sail for the Lowendal Islands from Dampier at 2am.

They saw out the eclipse off WA's Pilbara where they are expected to get an additional five to six seconds of totality compared to those on shore.

Hundreds of additional government personnel were sent to the region to help manage the influx of visitors.

While conscious of the challenges, WA Tourism Minister Roger Cook said he was happy with how events were proceeding.

"I'm getting more and more comfortable with the number of people who are here and how the town is coping with visitors," he said.

"We want to leave a legacy for Exmouth and the other towns in the region, to make sure we can be really proud of what we put on here."

With thousands more visitors expected to drive into Exmouth on day trips to witness the event this morning, Mr Cook urged people hitting the road to take care.

"Be safe, be patient," he said.

"We want to make sure people have a great solar eclipse experience, but a safe one as well."

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