Stargazers in awe as total eclipse arcs across Pacific

Last Updated: Monday, July 12, 2010 - 15:25

Hanga Roa,(Chile): A total solar eclipse
drew an 11,000-kilometre arc over the Pacific, plunging remote
territories into darkness, but drawing thousands of curious
tourists and their dollars.

The skies grew black in the middle of the day 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 yesterday.

"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 said to a news agency.

"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 eye-wear 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 kilometres 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 kilometres, 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.

PTI



First Published: Monday, July 12, 2010 - 15:25

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