April 20 eclipse the next chapter in Australia’s long relationship with astronomical event, new book explains

Jamie ThannooMidwest Times
The previous Australian eclipse in 2012.
Camera IconThe previous Australian eclipse in 2012. Credit: Supplied/RegionalHUB

This month’s eclipse — just 15 days away — will be just one moment in a long relationship between Australia and the astronomical phenomena, according to a new book released last month.

Eclipse Chasers, from the CSIRO, written by University of Sydney’s Dr Toner Stevenson and University of South Queensland’s Nick Lomb, explores the history of Australian eclipses, and gives expert advice on planning your own eclipse adventure.

Dr Stevenson said the experience of witnessing eclipses had been inspiring humans on this continent for thousands of years, from Indigenous astronomers to trail blazing female scientists.

“We have an amazing history, which is the core of the book,” she said

In one chapter, Dr Stevenson wrote about how a solar eclipse across Australia was the perfect opportunity to test Einstein’s theory of relativity and the idea that gravity could bend light.

The dark sky of an eclipse provided a unique opportunity to see stars while they are near the sun, and compare them to how the stars normally look when away from the sun.

Scientists from around the world set up camp in Wallal, about 1000km northwest of Exmouth, where they were able to take photos of the eclipse, and compared the position of stars in the photos to how they appeared at night..

The results showed the stars appeared to move, as the sun was bending the light from these stars — proving Einstein correct.

It was a major scientific moment, made in a tiny corner of Australia, Dr Stevenson said.

“It was such an important thing, doing the experiment, and they did in fact prove without any doubt that Einstein’s theory relativity was correct,” she said.

In another chapter of the book the history of the relationship between Indigenous Australians and eclipses is detailed.

Aboriginal people, who viewed eclipses for millennia, developed their own systems of knowledge for understanding the phenomena.

“Aboriginal people could predict eclipses through the passing down of their culture,” Dr Stevenson said.

Not only is there a fascinating history of eclipses, Australia also has a bright (or perhaps the opposite) future with five solar eclipses set to grace our skies over next the 17 years, including the one this month and another which will occur over Geraldton in 2037.

Dr Stevenson said she was hopeful these lucky circumstances would leave Australia with a renewed interest in the cosmos.

“It’s an amazing thing to happen, for five to occur in such a sequence is quite unique,” she said.

“It is certainly the most spectacular astronomical event, and I think it will excite people to pay a bit more attention to astronomy. That’s especially important for school children.”

For those looking at the April 20 total solar eclipse, stay safe and enjoy the moment, said Dr Stevenson, who will be in Exmouth to witness the phenomena.

“We all have a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she said.

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