Total solar eclipse blots out sun, amazes skywatchers

Total solar eclipse provided the most dazzling views on Easter Island, where astronomers and thousands of tourists watched.

By , SPACE.com Managing Editor

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    A total solar eclipse is seen in Baihata, about 22 miles west of Gauhati, India, on July 22, 2009. The longest solar eclipse of the 21st century pitched a swath of Asia from India to China into near darkness Wednesday as millions gathereded to watch the phenomenon.
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A total solar eclipse arced across the southern Pacific Ocean Sunday, blotting out the sun and offering stunning views to skywatchers, some of whom ventured to remote islands or rode cruise ships just to see the event.

For many, the most dazzling views were from Easter Island, where astronomers and thousands of tourists watched the total solar eclipse from an island already renowned for its mysterious giant statues.

"We observed the total eclipse in perfectly clear skies from Easter Island," Williams College astronomy professor Jay Pasachoff told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "The sky was wonderful."

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IN PICTURES: Total solar eclipse in the Pacific

It was the 51st solar eclipse for Pasachoff, who took a research team to Easter Island to study the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere.

During a total eclipse, when the disk of the sun is entirely blocked by the moon, the corona is suddenly visible as bright, wispy tendrils that can be safely viewed with the naked eye. (Protective glasses are required to watch the phases of the eclipse before and after totality. Viewing the sun's disk directly can cause permanent eye damage.)

The sun's corona dazzled observers with bright streamers punctuated by diamond ring appearance of the sun and moon during the eclipse.

"The diamond rings were spectacular," Pasachoff said.

This solar eclipse was the second for 2010, but the only one this year to be a total solar eclipse. A partial solar eclipse, also known as an annular solar eclipse, occurred on Jan. 15.

The next total solar eclipse won't occur until November 2012. [Total solar eclipse photos.]

Total solar eclipse, remote locations

Sunday's solar eclipse was touted as one of the most remote eclipses ever. It was visible along a thousand-mile track that stretched from a region north of New Zealand to the southern tip of South America.

While the eclipse offered up to 4 minutes and 41 seconds of totality at Easter Island, it made landfall at few other spots in the South Pacific, among them: the Cook Islands, some French Polynesian atolls and the Patagonia region of Argentina, where the solar eclipse was visible as the sun set behind the Andes mountains.

The global sky photography effort The World At Night (TWAN) stationed photographers all along the eclipse's visibility track, including onboard a chartered jet (which chased the solar eclipse across the ocean), cruise ships, islands and in Patagonia. In addition to snapping photos, the photographers also hoped to share their passion of astronomy and astrophotography with tourists and residents of the locations they visited, TWAN director Babak Tafreshi told SPACE.com.

"Eclipse-chasing is not all about eclipses. It's also a way to meet people and learn and respect other cultures," Tafreshi said. "It's a chance to share your passion with others."

Cruise ship spectacle

Eclipse-chaser Bill Kramer watched the solar eclipse from the deck of the cruise ship Paul Gaugin, which was sailing near Tahiti with more than 300 eager skywatchers aboard as the moon blocked the sun.

"As to how it was – well, wonderful," Kramer told SPACE.com in an e-mail. "It is hard to imagine what eclipse-chasers of 100 years ago would think of our luxury cruise vessel conveying us to an obscure point on the globe to watch an eclipse in style."

Kramer said the eclipse looked spectacular from his cruise ship vantage point, despite some clouds that cropped up during the event.

Kramer's total solar eclipse photos revealed the sun completely obscured by the moon, leaving a fiery ring around the moon's edge and brilliant coronal streamers that stretched out several times the width of the moon.

"The streamers stretched 4 to lunar diameters (depending on the observer) and the prominences were glorious in binoculars," Kramer said.

Solar eclipse over Andes

In Argentina, many eclipse-chasers watched the moon block the sun from the El Calafate region near the Morena Glacier, but because of the location, the time of totality – when the sun is completely obscured – was a mere two minutes.

Skywatcher Daniel Fischer of the University of Bonn in Germany took stunning photos of the solar eclipse over the Andes mountain range and posted them on Twitter, where he writes as Cosmos4u.

Fischer said observers crowded the Mirador way, east of El Calafate, to see the solar eclipse spectacle. The event could even be felt once the moon completely blocked the sun.

"It *did* get cold in these two minutes, by the way," Fischer wrote.

Charles Fulco, a space and environmental systems coordinator for schools in Port Chester, N.Y., was also at El Calafate with the group Eclipse City, Ltd., to watch the solar eclipse from a mountain perch more than 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) up. The winds were strong but the sky was clear and blue during the event.

"The eclipse was beautiful, a golden-yellow color to the corona and diamond rings," Fulco told SPACE.com in an e-mail, adding that it was a tough but rewarding trip. "Totally exhausted but totally happy!"

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IN PICTURES: Total solar eclipse in the Pacific

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