Australia solar eclipse delights thousands

Onlookers had a magnificent view of the Sun, completely obscured by the silhouette of the Moon.

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Tens of thousands of tourists and astronomers gathered in northern Australia to glimpse a rare total solar eclipse.

The eclipse, which occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, plunged parts of Queensland into darkness for just over two minutes.

Estimates suggest the event, early on Wednesday, was viewed live by millions.

A partial eclipse was expected in other parts of the region, including New Zealand and eastern Indonesia.

The next total solar eclipse will not take place until March 2015.

Onlookers gathered at vantage points, in boats and on hot air balloons to witness the rare phenomenon.

There had been fears that cloudy weather would obscure the eclipse but the clouds parted just as it began, drawing cheers from the crowd as the full spectacle came into view.

Tourists look at a cloudy sky as a full solar eclipse begins in the northern Australian city of Cairns November 14, 2012. Thousands of tourists gathered to catch the eclipse

"Immediately before, I was thinking, 'Are we gonna see this?' And we just had a fantastic display - it was just beautiful," said Terry Cuttle, from the Astronomical Association of Queensland.

"And right after it finished, the clouds came back again. It really adds to the drama of it."

"It's really cool. I've never seen anything like this before," one young spectator at Palm Cove said.

Temperatures dropped as the shadow of the Moon blocked the Sun, and animals reacted to the eclipse with confusion.

"Wow, insects and birds gone quiet," one tourist, Geoff Scott, tweeted.

Scientists were set to use footage from underwater cameras at the Great Barrier Reef to investigate creatures' reactions to the eclipse.

Australian tour operators welcomed the surge in holiday-makers, with reports of some hotels being booked up more than three years in advance.

State officials estimate that over 50,000 extra people visited Queensland to experience the phenomenon.

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