On April 20, 2023 a rare ‘hybrid’ solar eclipse will graze Western Australia, Timor Leste and West Papua. Here’s what you need to know.
A total solar eclipse is the king of eclipses, so why bother traveling to Western Australia’s tiny Exmouth Peninsula to see a ‘hybrid’ solar eclipse on April 20, 2023? The answer is simple – to see a total solar eclipse!
Will this be a popular eclipse?
The moon’s shadow just grazes Australia, throwing Exmouth Peninsula and the North West Cape in Western Australia under the shadow, but since it’s a small area eclipse-chasers will likely fill the (somewhat plentiful) accommodation years in advance. However, there likely won’t be as much of a media-frenzy for this eclipse because journalists clearly don’t know what a hybrid solar eclipse is. Check out this article by ABC, the national broadcaster in Australia, which includes this misguided statement alongside a map of Australia eclipse that excludes 2023: “Exmouth and the North West Cape in Western Australia will also experience a solar eclipse in April 2023, however, it is classified as a ‘hybrid’ solar eclipse and so is not included on this map of total solar eclipses.”
More fool them because in WA the hybrid solar eclipse will effectively be a total solar eclipse. It’s actually very simple.
“A hybrid eclipse is one which is annular when the path first touches the Earth, and/or leaves the Earth, but which becomes total for a period in-between,” said Australian astronomer Dave Herald. So depending on where you stand in the eclipse track on the surface of Earth, it can appear as a total solar eclipse or as an annular solar eclipse. Luckily, during that ‘in-between’ period is exactly when the moon’s shadow hits part of Western Australia, Timor Leste and West Papua. However, the spectacle begins and ends as an annular solar eclipse, in this case, at sea.
This means that, hybrid or not, every eclipse-chaser who goes to watch this eclipse on land, or anywhere near it, will experience totality just the same as at any other total solar eclipse. So there you have it; you have no excuse to miss this one!
Why you need to center yourself in 2023
However, it’s important to get as close as possible to the center of the Path of Totality; straying even a few miles either side means drastically cutting-down on maximum duration. The lure in 2023, of course, is 1 minute 16 seconds of totality. That may not sound like much, but it will be enough to attract tens of thousands of eclipse-chasers.
Why is 2023 a special eclipse?
For astronomers, the attraction of the 2023 hybrid solar eclipse is to see more Baily’s beads than usual. Caused by the last rays of sun coming through the Moon’s valleys, they’re more special during a hybrid solar eclipse. “The duration of individual Baily’s Beads is not affected by the hybrid eclipse type,” explains Herald. “The hybrid eclipse results in far more beads than for an annular or total eclipse (and) a good thing about Exmouth is that both limits of the central eclipse cross the Exmouth peninsular – so that beads can be observed from near both limits.” It’s even possible to simulate what observers will see.
What is the Exmouth Peninsula like?
Although totality will also be observable from Timor Leste and West Papua, most eclipse-chasers will head to Exmouth in Western Australia, or to a cruise ship off the coast on the Ningaloo Reef. Tourist season there is March to November when the population leaps from 2,700 to 7,500. So that’s about 5,000 beds, though there will be lots of camping opportunities in the peninsula’s Cape Range National Park.
Can Exmouth handle the influx of eclipse-chasers? “Exmouth is a fairly remote location,” says Herald. “The biggest hurdle will be getting there, particularly if the airlines don’t put on extra flights.” From Perth, it’s a 1,270 km drive on a sealed road.
Image credit: Eclipse map/figure/table/predictions courtesy of Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Map data © Google 2017