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Chasing shadows: How to watch the solar eclipse in style

Story highlights

  • A total solar eclipse will occur on November 14 over northern tip of Australia
  • Up to 60,000 eclipse chasers expected to descend on region to watch the event
  • From an island paradise to a hot air balloon, there are many novel ways to experience it

Susie Kalimnios has traveled thousands of miles for two spectacular minutes.

The mother of three from Montauk, New York, is in Australia for what she's hoping will be "the experience of a lifetime."

She has made a pilgrimage to Australia's remote Far North Queensland region to witness a total solar eclipse.

For just a few ethereal minutes on the morning of November 14, the nation's northernmost tip will be plunged in to complete darkness, as the moon aligns precisely between the earth and the sun.

Kalimnios will certainly not be alone. Despite the relatively secluded viewing location, up to 60,000 eclipse chasers are expected to descend on the region and a flurry of eclipse-themed events -- from hot air balloon rides to snorkling expeditions -- are in store to mark the occasion.

For her part, Kalimnios will be running in the Solar Eclipse Marathon, a race that begins the moment the first shard of light emerges from behind the moon -- creating what the event organizers describe as an "intergalactic starting gun."

"It is the combination of the solar eclipse and the marathon that made this a must-do for me," Kalimnios says. "This is only going to happen once and (it's) an experience I'll never ever be able to do again."

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Keith Mansfield, an author from London, is making the journey so he can finally experience a "proper total eclipse." A self-described space geek, Mansfield is the author of the Johnny Mackintosh books -- a children's series he describes as "Harry Potter in space."

Mansfield witnessed a total eclipse of the sun in Cornwall in the UK in 1999, but it was cloudy. Even though conditions weren't the best, the memory remained with him, and he's been waiting to experience that moment of complete darkness ever since.

"It's just a remarkable coincidence that the moon is exactly the same size in the sky as the sun. What are the chances of that?" Wonders Mansfield, whose viewing perch will be the luxuriously tropical Fitzroy Island adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.

Rick Brown, a commodities trader from New York who's been hooked on eclipses since he saw one first in 1970, is part of the tourism boom. He's been leading eclipse safaris all over the world for two decades.

This year, he's guiding a group of about 50 in Australia, marking his 13th tour. A one-man show, Brown personally handles all the tour arrangements, from restaurants to lodging to the all-important viewing point. His group will watch the eclipse from a beach just outside the picturesque town of Port Douglas.

With a large group, the anticipation leading up to the event is a big part of the fun, he says. "There's a lot of excitement that builds up before the first moment when the moon kisses the sun."

And while "totality is probably the fastest few minutes you can probably live through," the short duration doesn't minimize the experience. "It's a phenomenal thing to see," he says.

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Tours like Brown's are part of a growing eclipse tourism industry that encompasses everything from luxury cruises to music and art festivals. All the activity provides a nice economic boost. The Cairns Regional Council estimates the eclipse will inject 75 million Australian dollars (about 75 million USD) into the local economy and add nearly 400 jobs.

If there's anyone who's been a witness to the rise in eclipse tourism over the years, it's Jay Pasachoff, a professor of astronomy at Williams College who will be viewing his 56th solar eclipse.

Nowadays, people who want to see an eclipse will travel to do so, he says. "It's the most remarkable spectacle that anyone can see. I remember each of the eclipses I've seen. Each one has its own story."

A total eclipse of the sun isn't just a striking experience, he notes, but also a rare opportunity for scientists to learn more about the sun and the universe.

"Scientifically there are special things we can study on the sun that we can't observe at any other time," says Pasachoff, who will use the few minutes of totality to learn more about the motion and structure of the corona, the sun's outer atmosphere.

Whether a first-time stargazer or a veteran astronomer, there's something all eclipse watchers in Australia are hoping for: clear weather. Overcast skies diminish visibility, but if the clouds remain at bay, a thrilling and unforgettable moment awaits.

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