Gerhana Matahari – Total Solar Eclipse Indonesia

Toner Stevenson, past manager of Sydney Observatory is an avid eclipse chaser and is in Indonesia for the upcoming solar eclipse.

Outreach to the local community

A small group of professional astronomers, and keen astronomy communicators with the langitselatan astronomy media team, and astronomy enthusiasts, including myself, arrived at Maba on Sunday 6 March. We travelled by plane from Jakarta to Ternate, then by boat across the water to the west side of the island called Halmahera, and finally overland for seven hours across mountains and rough, narrow potholed roads to our destination on the east. A member of our group is a journalist from Liputan6, and a fellow Australian has travelled from Melbourne where he is a member of the Astronomical Society of Victoria.

We are preparing for the total solar eclipse which will occur on 9 March and Maba is right on the centre line. The eclipse begins at 8:36am local time, with totality at 9:52am and should last around 3 minutes 19seconds, the Earth will leave the shadow of the Moon at 11:23am. Details of the timings and where a partial eclipse can be seen from in Australia were provided in a previous post.

The selection of the eclipse viewing site is important. The organiser of this eclipse expedition, Avivah Yamani, is from this remote part of Indonesia. Maba is a small town in the North Halmahera Island in Indonesia, which lies north of Java. From Maba we will have a direct view to the east, to maximum eclipse. The locals in Maba are preparing by hand-making signs and selling eclipse glasses. A number of small, local hotels, like the one we are staying in, have been extended from family homes. These are private room hostels, safe, clean and hospitable.

A homemade total solar eclipse (gerhani matahari total) sign in a local Shop in Maba. Photo and copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.
A homemade total solar eclipse (gerhani matahari total) sign in a local Shop in Maba. Photo and copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.

The sky was totally clouded when we arrived but today, Monday 7 March, we have been lucky to have sunshine. There is only one place with public internet in the town, and it only operates from 8pm to 8am. The electricity is generated by each household.

The main purpose of our trip is voluntary outreach to the local Maba Technical Middle School where we have today done a number of workshops, assembled and demonstrated the solar scopes (donated by the NSW Institution of Surveyors) and solar eclipse glasses, some of which were donated by Sydney Observatory.

Toner Stevenson, with students of Maba Technical Middle School. Photographed with permission, copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.
Toner Stevenson, with students of Maba Technical Middle School. Photographed with permission, copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.

The teachers and senior students assembled six telescopes, which were donated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) and brought to Maba by two Portuguese astronomers currently living and working with the NAOJ. Solar filters have been made for these by the engineer in our group.

Portuguese astronomer Nuno Carvalho teaching the students about sunspots using the solarscopes to project the image of the Sun. Photographed with permission, copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.
Portuguese astronomer Nuno Carvalho teaching the students about sunspots using the solar scopes to project the image of the Sun. Photographed with permission, copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.

Astronomy educators from langitselatan held a workshop where students made pinhole cameras that they will use on Eclipse day. The teachers and teenage students were very enthusiastic and keen to be photographed, curious about our group and eager to participate in the workshops. On Wednesday we will have several other local primary school students with their parents join us.

Students making their pinhole cameras. Photographed with permission, copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.
Students making their pinhole cameras. Photographed with permission, copyright Toner Stevenson ©, all rights reserved.

The big challenge on eclipse day will be the weather. The clouds come and go and this is still officially the ‘wet’ season. Much preparation goes into an eclipse expedition and this is no exception, but the weather is what makes the difference!

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