A large group of people seated in orange and white chairs face a large projector at the front of the room with an individual standing at a podium. The image projected onto the screen displays a book titled 'Eclipse Chasers' and some smaller text

April 20, 2023, will be remembered as the day a natural phenomenon mesmerised millions when a rare hybrid solar eclipse filled the early afternoon sky.

The start of totality will be signalled by a diamond ring haloing the syzygy of the sun, moon and earth, and onlookers will be shrouded in its celestial shadow. 

Those who went to our recent Eclipse Chasers: Past, Present and Future talk will know the intricacies of what is happening around 383,000 km away from Earth.

Opening much like the memorable lessons of a high school science class, historian Dr Toner Stevenson and astronomer Dr Melissa Hulbert’s talk began with a simple demonstration.

Two audience members stood at opposite ends of the room, one holding a small white ball and the other a torch. Dr Stevenson then began to explain the basic steps of a solar eclipse. She excitedly revealed the more profound science behind the natural phenomenon, the umbra – the shadow cast in a total eclipse – and the penumbra – the shadow cast in a partial eclipse, the distance of the moon and the varying types of eclipses.

After laying out the foundational knowledge needed to understand what would actually happen during the eclipse, Dr Stevenson encouraged the audience to appreciate the depth of history surrounding this phenomenon.

“It’s scientific, but it’s also cultural … It was something people used to express their sense of themselves,” she said.

“The Museum’s Antikythera exhibition is an amazing example of how we have lost a lot of that (initial) eclipse knowledge, and it wasn’t until the invention of the telescope that we really began finding that knowledge again.”

Dr Stevenson explained the eclipses’ implications in proving Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, how stargazing technology and astrophotography developed with each new eclipse and the story of Australia from an astrological perspective.

“To me, the fact that there are other (new) technologies does not change my personal experience of a total solar eclipse … I think it’s something people should try and experience once in their life,” she said.   

Opening with a description built upon a decade’s worth of eclipse viewings, Dr Hulbert projected her passion onto the audience.

“A diamond ring heralds the start of totality, as a shadow is cast from the sky. A total solar eclipse is one of the most awe-inspiring celestial events you can witness,” she said.

Dr Hulbert went on to describe how the brightness of the stars and the faint silhouettes of distant planets can be seen during totality and the rarity of what many would witness on April 20.  

“It’s incredible to stand there and just watch this natural phenomenon – that no one has any control over – just occur and create this amazing spectacle,” she said.

As the talk ended, questions were raised and answered, and many audience members stayed to test their newfound knowledge with the hosts, who were about to head to Exmouth in time for the eclipse. The Eclipse Chasers talk put into context a seemingly unexplainable natural phenomenon and catalysed a deeper appreciation for the history of astrological discovery.

WA Museum Boola Bardip hosts a diverse and captivating program of talks all year. Designed for those who want to learn more about the inner workings of science, culture, and creativity, hear captivating stories and learn what goes on behind the scenes.