A guide to the pursuit of these astronomical events
A new book, Eclipse Chasers, unveils First Nations knowledge, previously hidden contributions from women, and past expeditions so that you can prepare your celestial view for the next two decades of Australian eclipses.
Eclipse Chasers, written by Dr Toner Stevenson from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Professor Nick Lomb from the University of Southern Queensland, has unveiled the history of total solar eclipse observation in Australia.
Enthusiasts worldwide will come to Exmouth in Western Australia on 20 April to catch the best view of a total solar eclipse at 11:29 am local time. Over a period of 17 years, solar eclipse fans can view five more eclipses under Australian skies.
CSIRO Publishing has marked the occasion with Eclipse Chasers. This book delves into our human relationship with these events and how we have documented, interpreted, and travelled far to view them for centuries. People are believed to have been viewing eclipses since the earliest times of humanity.
"We are fortunate to be living on a planet where we can experience a total solar eclipse due to the relationship between the Earth, the moon and the sun to be in the perfect line of totality to experience, during the day, the drama as darkness falls, the temperature drops, birds cease their chirping and then, as the moon covers the sun completely, a dramatic visceral treat," Dr Stevenson said.
She is an honorary historian at the University of Sydney who studies the history of astronomy in Australia and globally.
Dr Stevenson has more than 35 years of leadership positions in the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, which includes the Powerhouse Museum and the Sydney Observatory, Sydney Living Museums, and the Natural Museum in London.
When she was the manager at the Sydney Observatory, her interest in astronomy peaked.
"We are fortunate to be living on a planet where we can experience a total solar eclipse due to the relationship between the Earth, the moon and the sun to be in the perfect line of totality to experience, during the day."
"I've always been interested in science, and I was looking through some photographs, and I started managing some collection items we sorted, and I saw a photograph of an Einstein shed on the Goodiwindi Racecourse in Queensland," she said.
"That sort of made me think, 'why was there an Einstein shed on the Goondiwindi Racecourse, and what did the Sydney Observatory have to do with it?"
The iron box structure had flaps and bits of fabric attached to it, and through research she discovered it had a telescope that was tracking the sun during the eclipse and taking photos of the sun, fitted with a camera that captured the area surrounding the sun.
The stars could be seen during the eclipse's totality from the shed when the moon completely blocks the sun on a very narrow pathway, which in 1922 went through Australia.
This wasn't the only moment during her tenure at the museum that Dr Stevenson came across eclipse history.
She worked on an exhibition of the Codex Leicester, a collection of scientific writings and drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, which includes drawings of the relationship between the Sun, Earth and Moon.
It was a natural progression for Dr Stevenson to pursue her interest in the history of solar eclipses, a relatively unknown area of study because the science of eclipses has overshadowed human appeal as a focus of research.
The honorary professor explains that when we consider the history of the solar event, it encourages questions about how people react to them.
"It's not only how science was made and conducted, but also society becoming engaged with science.
"In the chapter I wrote about confirming proof of Einstein's general theory of relativity, I was astonished to find little handbooks of instructions about how and where to see the eclipse, and they were sent out to schools," she shared.
When looking at images of people witnessing solar eclipses throughout history Dr Stevenson and her contemporaries are keen to answer, 'who are these people? Where do they come from? Why were they there? And why were these eclipses more important than science?'
The second chapter of Eclipse Chasers' Solar eclipses in First Nations traditions' is written by Uncle Ghillar Michael Anderson, Eualhayi Elder and Senior Law Man, and Associate Professor Duane Hamacher from the University of Melbourne details the history of First Nations' relationship with the solar phenomenon.
Witnessing a solar eclipse is rare, but the brief events are understood by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' knowledge systems, as they've witnessed them over hundreds of millennia.
"Aboriginal people could predict eclipses through the passing down of their culture," said Dr Stevenson.
Eclipse Chasers tells the underrepresented stories of women in astronomy. Dr Stevenson notes the story of Mary Acworth, the wife of solar spectroscopist John Everett and her contributions to documenting Australia's solar system.
"She visited Australia with her mother and her sister, and she wrote the first easy-to-follow book of the Southern stars. These women throughout history have made a special effort wherever possible and we wanted to find out more about what they did and were they there to cook? No, they were not there to cook at all – they did a lot of the organisation."
Ms Acworth is far from the only woman who has occupied space in astronomy, and through visiting eclipse history more women’s impacts are finally celebrated.
Eclipse Chasers is available to purchase at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, good bookstores and online here.