Mysterious Easter Island set for rare total eclipse

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Mysterious Easter Island set for rare total eclipse

Post by Piper on Sun Jul 11, 2010 10:10 pm

Mysterious Easter Island set for rare total eclipse

by Martin Bernetti – 45 mins ago July 11, 2010

HANGA ROA, Chile (AFP) – Thousands of excited stargazers waited on mysterious Easter Island Sunday to catch an almost five-minute total eclipse of the sun, with rainy, cloudy weather threatening to spoil the view.

The confluence of the rare eclipse casting its shadow over the island's ancient, strange stone statues lent a mystical air to events, occurring as Spain and the Netherlands battle it out in the finals of the World Cup 2010 match.

The eclipse was set to trace an 11,000-kilometer (6,800-mile) arc across the Pacific, beginning at 1815 GMT, when the umbra or shadow falls on the South Pacific about 700 kilometers (440 miles) southeast of Tonga, according to veteran NASA eclipse specialist, Fred Espanak.

It will then zip in an easterly arc across the Pacific, eventually cloaking remote Easter Island and its mysterious giant statues at 2011 GMT and finishing with a pass across southern Chile.

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

But Chilean weather forecasters cast doubts on how visible the seventh total eclipse of the century would be, warning of clouds and rains.

Umbrellas and raincoats have already been de rigueur for those arriving on Easter Island by boat and airplane for the last few days.

Many have also come equipped with special solar eclipse glasses, hoping to be able to stare into the skies at the exact moment that Sun, Moon and Earth align for a fleeting four minutes and 41 seconds.

"Sitting in the airport we are all supercharged with adrenaline," wrote Astronomy magazine editor Michael Bakich on the micro-messaging service Twitter.

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

Parts of the globe will be plunged into daytime darkness along the narrow corridor some 11,000 kilometers long across the South Pacific.

Superstition has forever been part of the cult of the eclipse.

Throughout human history, 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 Moon slides in front of the Sun and the Earth is plunged into daytime darkness.

Easter Island authorities have 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 the original islanders' 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 both arrested Sunday for mounting "platforms where they are not allowed to touch and climb the statues," said police chief Cristian Gonzalez.

The island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was strained even before the eclipse by a growing number of visitors who choose to stay indefinitely.

Chile's government last year proposed a law to establish immigration controls on Easter Island and limit the number of tourists to try to protect the local population and fragile ecosystem.

On the streets of the capital Hanga Roa, craft fairs abound and merchants were selling native craft items and eclipse souvenirs.

Mayor Luz del Carmen Zasso said local officials have taken "all measures to protect the heritage and the environment."

She said visitors will be told to treat the island with respect. "Easter Island is an open-air museum, and the eclipse is part of this museum," she added.


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