Solar eclipse captivates Western Bay astronomers

By Genevieve Helliwell

Tauranga astronomers and dozens of solar enthusiasts celebrated a brief moment in history when a solar eclipse saw the region fall into a mystical twilight.

First the temperature dropped, then the light slowly dimmed and that was the moment Tauranga viewers knew the solar eclipse had begun yesterday.

"It was really incredible, it looked like a halo," said Tauranga resident Sandra Seller.

"I last saw an eclipse in 1999 in Germany and seeing one again is unbelievable."

With a special lens, Mrs Seller and about 100 others tilted their heads to the skies and watched the moon make its way in front of the sun.

It began about 9.18am and reached a maximum coverage at 10.28am when the sun appeared as a bright crescent. It ended at 11.44am.

From New Zealand, the sun and the moon did not appear to line up perfectly so the event would be seen as a partial eclipse, said Tauranga Astronomical Society president Toby Tobias.<inline type="photogallery" id="16151" align="outside" embed="no" />

"In total, we'll see about 86 per cent coverage. It will be a total eclipse in Cairns in Australia and in Norfolk Island but not in New Zealand."

The eclipse appeared fuller in northern parts of the country, particularly North Cape where 91 per cent cover was predicted.

"The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun so you wouldn't expect it to cover the sun but actually the sun is 400 times further away."

At the Tauranga Observatory, a live feed from Cairns was projected on a big screen so viewers could watch the full eclipse, however cloudy weather made visibility poor.

Images from an 8-inch telescope at the Tauranga observatory was also projected on the clubroom wall, to allow viewers to watch the eclipse live.<inline type="photogallery" id="16131" align="outside" embed="no" />

First-time solar spotter Hayden McHardy, 19, said the eclipse looked "amazing".

He marked the occasion at the Tauranga Observatory with his father Terence.

"It's not quite a once-in-a-lifetime thing but it doesn't come around very often so it's pretty cool."

Mr Tobias said the next solar eclipse would be seen in New Zealand in 2028.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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