Clouds could get in way of Cairns’ solar extravaganza

Smithfield State High School students Annie Vestergaard and David Migdale with a Solarscope their school will use to view the eclipse.THE city of Cairns has been preparing for today’s total solar eclipse for three years.

Close to 60,000 tourists, scientists and amateur astronomers – including travellers from Japan, Germany and the United States – have all but booked out the city’s hotels, hire cars and beachside vantage points.

But there is no guarantee eclipse enthusiasts will witness the moon’s disc swallow the sun this morning – a few pesky clouds may ruin the big moment.

As of 4.30pm Tuesday, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Cairns forecast predicted ”light showers [and] cloudy periods about the coast” for this morning.

Patches of fluffy cloud, typical during the onset of the region’s wet season, teased eclipse watchers all day Tuesday and created a nuisance for astronomers setting up their telescopes.

Brisbane amateur astronomer Jonathan Bradshaw was prepared to stay up through the night to ensure his equipment, which will live-stream the celestial dance to the world, was ready.

”For our set-up to be really good for tomorrow we need to get it accurately aligned. We can’t do it because there is no sun today so hopefully tonight we’re going to finish the job off with the stars,” he said.

A fellow eclipse lover, or umbraphile, Terry Cuttle, was hopeful the clouds would part for his 12th total solar eclipse. ”Terry’s an eclipse-chasing legend,” Mr Bradshaw said.

Local high school student Annie Vestergaard, 13, and her parents will wake at 5am today to make their way to a nearby beach for the eclipse. If cloud obscures her view it will be disappointing, ”but I’ll still get to experience it going dark”, she said.

Ms Vestergaard and peers at Smithfield State High School built home-made pinhole cameras from long cardboard cylinders to watch the moon block the sun.

From a clear sky, a total solar eclipse will be visible between Innisfail and Port Douglas after sunrise. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane will experience a partial eclipse.

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