Stargazers in awe as total eclipse arcs across Pacific

Jul 11, 2010 by Martin Bernetti
The sun is seen partially covered by the moon on Easter Island, 3700 km off the Chilean coast in the Pacific Ocean. A total solar eclipse drew an 11,000-kilometer (6,800-mile) arc over the Pacific Sunday, plunging remote isles into darkness in a heavenly display climaxing on mysterious Easter Island.

A total solar eclipse drew an 11,000-kilometer (6,800-mile) arc over the Pacific, plunging remote isles into darkness in a heavenly display climaxing on mysterious Easter Island.

The skies grew black in the middle of the day Sunday as the Moon slipped in front of the Sun and aligned with the Earth, blotting out the sunshine that just moments earlier had swathed the island's silent, ancient stone guardians.

Applause erupted from thousands of stargazers who began gathering days ago on this remote Chilean outpost for the rare four-minute, 41-second eclipse.

"It was like being in the stadium at night with artificial light. It was like being in a dark room with a 10-watt bulb," awe-struck local official Francisco Haoa told AFP.

"It started with a shadow. The skies were perfectly blue, with lots of wind that chased away the clouds. Everyone applauded.

"We saw a luminous object near here and people started saying they were sure it was a UFO."

In Tahiti, where the solar eclipse began its trek, the effect was so stunning that crowds of football-mad Polynesians turned away from the World Cup final on their television screens to look to the skies instead.

"It was like the Sun was smiling," said eight-year-old Hinanui. "The Sun seemed like a horizontal crescent, then the Moon covered up the bottom of the Sun, which reappeared again as a crescent."

Opticians and pharmacies sold more than 120,000 pairs of protective eyewear in Tahiti, which has 260,000 inhabitants, and warned of the dangers of vision loss if people looked directly at the eclipse.

Beginning at 1815 GMT, when the umbra or shadow fell about 700 kilometers (440 miles) southeast of Tonga, the eclipse zipped in an easterly arc, cloaking Easter Island at 2011 GMT.

It finished with a pass across southern Chile and Argentina, where it came to an end at 2052 GMT, just before nightfall in Patagonia.

An estimated 4,000 tourists, scientists, photographers, filmmakers and journalists flocked to this World Heritage site of only 160 square kilometers (60 square miles), doubling the barren island's population.

The Sun is 400 times wider than the Moon, but it is also 400 times farther away. Because of the symmetry, the lunar umbra that falls on the face of the Earth is exactly wide enough to cover the face of the Sun.

Throughout human history, superstition, awe and dread -- fears for the birth or death of kings, victories or defeats, bumper harvests or gnawing hunger -- have attended the moment when the Earth is plunged into daytime darkness.

Easter Island authorities increased security, especially around key heritage sites, including the 3,000-year-old large stone statues, or moai, that put the far-flung ethnic Polynesian islanders on the world culture map.

In local ancient lore, such an eclipse "would have been seen as a very powerful signal of upcoming upheaval," as their world view was rooted in nature, in "the earth, the sea and especially the sky," said Patricia Vargas of the University of Chile.

A French and a Japanese tourist were arrested for mounting "platforms where they are not allowed to touch and climb the statues," said police chief Cristian Gonzalez.

Mayor Luz del Carmen Zasso said visitors were asked to treat the island with respect.

"Easter Island is an open-air museum, and the eclipse is part of this museum," she added.

The eclipse has brought a tourist boom to Easter Island and Tahiti, where American film director James Cameron was among the stargazers helping to bring a 10.8-million-dollar tourism bonanza to the archipelago.

Meanwhile, in the small Patagonian town of El Calafate, just across the border from southern Chile in the snow-capped Argentine Andes, hundreds of people gathered to witness the natural phenomenon.

"We are pleased and excited by the interest generated by the eclipse. The five daily flights arriving in El Calafate were full on Friday and Saturday, and the climate is excellent for watching," said tourism director Ana Ianni.

Forecasters said there were clear skies with below-freezing temperatures in the southern hemisphere winter, with all-terrain vehicles needed to brave the snowy mountains.

The more adventurous could choose to spend the day in heated tents, high up in mountain spots only accessible with the help of guides and the stunning Perito Moreno glacier as a backdrop.

Explore further: NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Easter Island theory presented

Dec 06, 2005

A University of Hawaii anthropologist and colleagues are blaming rats and Dutch traders for the mysterious abandonment of Easter Island.

Get Ready For Total Lunar Eclipse Wednesday Night

Feb 19, 2008

In the late night hours of Feb. 20, 2008, a total lunar eclipse will dazzle the night sky. And this lunar eclipse may be worth staying up for, because it will be the last one until December 2010.

Cloud obscures annular eclipse

Oct 03, 2005

Clouds obscured an annular eclipse for most sky-gazers across Europe and Asia Monday as the moon passed in front of the sun.

Partial lunar eclipse visible in western skies

Jun 27, 2010

(AP) -- Skygazers got a treat Saturday when a portion of the moon crossed into the Earth's shadow during a partial lunar eclipse visible in the western United States and Canada, the Pacific and eastern Asia.

Recommended for you

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

8 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

13 hours ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

MAVEN studies passing comet and its effects

15 hours ago

NASA's newest orbiter at Mars, MAVEN, took precautions to avoid harm from a dust-spewing comet that flew near Mars today and is studying the flyby's effects on the Red Planet's atmosphere.

How to safely enjoy the October 23 partial solar eclipse

16 hours ago

2014 – a year rich in eclipses. The Moon dutifully slid into Earth's shadow in April and October gifting us with two total lunars. Now it's the Sun's turn. This Thursday October 23 skywatchers across much ...

How to grip an asteroid

16 hours ago

For someone like Edward Fouad, a junior at Caltech who has always been interested in robotics and mechanical engineering, it was an ideal project: help develop robotic technology that could one day fly on ...

User comments : 8

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Birthmark
5 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2010
Beautiful
kevinrtrs
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 12, 2010
The Sun is 400 times wider than the Moon, but it is also 400 times farther away. Because of the symmetry, the lunar umbra that falls on the face of the Earth is exactly wide enough to cover the face of the Sun


What an incredible coincidence that these numbers correspond so exactly!!!!

I wonder what chance event produced such an amazing co-incidental occurrence? And what is the probability of such an event occurring?

Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2010
What an incredible coincidence that these numbers correspond so exactly!!!!

I wonder what chance event produced such an amazing co-incidental occurrence? And what is the probability of such an event occurring?
How about 500 million years ago when the moon was 600 times the size?

How about 500 million years from now when total eclipses will be a thing of the past?

Just because it is that way now doesn't mean it was designed to be that way. Coincidence happens, and the chances of coincidence happening when it is exactly what happened are 100%.

And just a quick FYI, Kev, why would your creator only have the mindset and frame of reference of a Judean Desert nomad when he created all of the Universe? What makes you think he'd do anything at your behest when he created so much that you'll never see or understand? The ants in your ant farm don't worship you, but at least they have evidence that you exist.
KBK
1 / 5 (3) Jul 12, 2010
Skeptic-boy..with all your amazing powers of science and technology..I want you to go build a Pyramid of Cheops. Lets say you have all of the world's talent and technological skills at your disposal. All.

The fact that you can't ....should daunt you a bit.

If it does not, I'd say I would be looking a limited viewpoint egotistical monkey-mind with egoic issues of some sort.

If you have not ever taken a *close* look at the larger set of mathematical/physical aspects of the great pyramid, then I think that you might be suffering from delusions of some sort, or some form of basic human ignorance.

For it is a fault of man to think that the limit of the given individual mind somehow defines the limits of the universe. Nothing could be more insane, but is is part of the biological viewpoint, that left brained logical framework machine, the one without decent dual-hemisphere cranial balance. A stilted and incorrect unbalanced viewpoint.

From there - cometh the low scores for this post.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (3) Jul 12, 2010
The fact that you can't ....should daunt you a bit.
But we can build one. The only statements of limitation involved with the Great Pyramid are statements of mechanical ability. ie: "One cannot lift the stones of the great pyramid using today's more powerful cranes."

But who needs to lift them? We know the Egyptians rolled them up an incline, we don't knwo exactly what that incline looked like, but a French architect has done everything short of build one. We understand that the only thing necessary for such a task is more time, not more energy or more power.

So my question to you in return is, what're you getting at?

For it is a fault of man to think that the limit of the given individual mind somehow defines the limits of the universe.
And that is my contention with religion. How arrogant to define all of reality through belief without evidence.
yyz
5 / 5 (2) Jul 12, 2010
An awesome view of the totally eclipsed sun setting over mountains from Patagonia, Argentina: http://www.spacew...skrm5o51

What a view!
Bob_B
5 / 5 (2) Jul 13, 2010
We'll lose full eclipses way before we lose idiots that believe in religious fairy tales.
barakn
5 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2010
The Sun is 400 times wider than the Moon, but it is also 400 times farther away. Because of the symmetry, the lunar umbra that falls on the face of the Earth is exactly wide enough to cover the face of the Sun


What an incredible coincidence that these numbers correspond so exactly!!!!

I wonder what chance event produced such an amazing co-incidental occurrence? And what is the probability of such an event occurring?


The text you quoted is wrong. The Moon's orbit is elliptical as is the Earth's, so the apparent size of the Sun and Moon both vary, and it's very unlikely for them to be the same size. Either the Moon is smaller, producing an annular eclipse, or the Moon is larger, producing a total eclipse.