A veteran eclipse-chaser found himself in a “hurry-up offense” on a tiny, uninhabited island during the April 2023 hybrid solar eclipse.

Chromosphere plume relative to Earth
Solar chromosphere and activity during the 2023 total Solar eclipse, with Earth for scale.
Eliot Herman / Flickr

I traveled to Lake Turkana in Kenya in 2013 to observe just 11 seconds of totality during a hybrid solar eclipse. During this uncommon event, the apparent diameters of the Moon and Sun are almost identical, allowing the Sun’s brilliant, crimson chromosphere to be seen around the entire silhouette of the Moon. Lake Turkana was predicted to have excellent weather, but before the eclipse the skies darkened and a sandstorm covered the landscape. So a small group of us took to the sky in a chartered, single-engine Caravan to get above the clouds. We broke through at 10,000 feet just in time for totality. With my zoom lens resting on the pilot’s shoulder, I was awed by the chromosphere surrounding the black lunar disk in my camera’s viewfinder. It was the most beautiful solar eclipse I’d ever seen. While the circumstances precluded a good photograph, it was seared in my memory. After we landed, I made a vow to both see and photograph the next hybrid eclipse. 

Hybrid eclipses occur once every decade or so, and the next one was on April 20, 2023, in Western Australia. Most eclipse chasers would choose to either to see this eclipse at sea, which isn’t optimal for photography, or brave the crowd predicted to descend on Exmouth, which would see its population swell tenfold. But there was an alternative: Off the coast of Western Australia are many small, mostly uninhabited islands and parks, including the sites of the UK’s first nuclear tests. I joined Paul Maley’s Eclipse Tours on a small expedition boat, the Coral Discoverer. Paul and I had discussed the observing potential for a shore party on one of the small islands, but this proved difficult. After more than a year of effort, Paul finally received permission to use Ah Chong Island, a 59-acre, uninhabited islet that’s part of the Montebello archipelago, where we would be restricted to a narrow beach so as not to disturb a seabird rookery. (I confirmed with a Geiger counter that no radiation remained on this island due to the nuclear tests.)

On eclipse day, we were warned about strong wind, no facilities, a ban on eating on the island to protect wildlife, and a possible rough ride getting there, so although all were invited, most stayed to enjoy the comforts of the larger ship. Fifteen eclipse chasers (including my spouse, Monica Schmidt) departed early on the ship’s tender while the mother ship repositioned.

Shore party
The shore party watched the partial phases of the eclipse from Ah Chong Island. The x360 camera at right filmed the eclipse. Most of the shore group were visual observers, and you can see them enjoying the scene and view. Other than our small group, there was not another person in sight.
Eliot Herman / Flickr

After years of anticipation, the trip to the island was intense and stressful. We arrived late because we lost an engine — one of two — so were moving slowly. After we landed, I had to quickly decide where to set up. Fortunately, I spotted a nice rock barrier that would block some wind (and confirmed it was not a turtle nest). Then I got my gear out. I had a few advantages, my camera lenses were prefocused and taped, and I had much of the hardware assembled and documented on my phone so I wouldn’t forget anything. It took only 10 or 15 minutes to set up seven cameras, newly bought for this eclipse, including two Nikon Z7IIs, a 400-mm f/4.5 telephoto with a 1.4× teleconverter, and a 16-35-mm wide-angle lens. Monica and I agreed that she would focus on video while I would capture stills. I had preplanned all the exposures and brackets so that everything could run with timers. That way, Monica and I could experience the event. I also had a FLIR thermal-infrared camera that another member of the shore party agreed to use to document the surrounding landscape cooling during totality. 

Chromosphere plume
This stack of 27 images captured on Ah Chong Island off the coast of Western Australia captured a beautiful complex of bright prominences and a solar "tornado."
Eliot Herman / Flickr

Fifteen minutes before totality, I was ready and was almost able to relax. The last bit of the partial eclipse ended to shouts of “diamond ring!” My cameras clicked — I only needed to glance to confirm all was going well — and then I could finally take a deep breath and experience the scene with my own eyes.

Solar corona

Eliot Herman / Flickr

The eclipse was intensely beautiful, a bright gem, in a dark-bright blue sky, with Jupiter above, Venus below. The 63 seconds were over in a flash, again to elated shouts of “diamond ring!” In minutes, the sky brightened and we gathered for a group celebration photo. A quick review of my images made me very happy. They were better than I hoped, and my “revenge” for the 2013 eclipse complete. Once home those 63 seconds of totality became hours of happy work producing images, some of which are shown here. 

Eclipsed sun, Bailey's Beads, chromosphere
Bailey’s Beads at the start of totality of the 2023 total Solar eclipse
Eliot Herman / Flickr

Eliot Herman is a professor at the University of Arizona and lifelong photographer, including astrophotography and focusing particularly on transient events. 


Image of Bob King

Bob King

May 19, 2023 at 12:00 am

Well done, Eliot! And the image of the spire-like prominence is one of my favorites I've seen anywhere of the eclipse.

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Image of Glenn


May 19, 2023 at 8:43 pm

A geiger counter just to be on the safe side? Good thinking 99! But as it was the crowds at Exmouth were well dispersed and it was easy to find a spot to be undisturbed. Besides, it's more fun to talk with other eclipsophiles anyway. We saw a 62s total, maybe an albatross saw an annular at either end of the umbral track - where it was antumbral, but no one saw a hybrid eclipse. Any tips for Texas in 2024?LOL

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June 12, 2023 at 8:31 am

Awesome story and images Eliot! I have done a bit of exotic travel for eclipse chasing and astrophotography and had my share of adventure on deserted islands. Always makes for a good story and sometimes makes for good images too! Well done!

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