Thousands of astronomers from all over the world are descending on remote Pacific islands for a spectacular total eclipse of the Sun. They are the ones with the money to travel, for few live beneath the eclipse track.
The eclipse will be a stunning sight as the Moon completely blots out the Sun’s disk, turning day into night. It lasts over five minutes at the optimum location.
The rare event occurs along a track thousands of miles long. But because that track is almost entirely over the sea, there are few places on land from which to see it.
Contrast that with the total solar eclipse just a year ago on July 22, 2009. Its track covered some of the most densely inhabited regions of the world including India and China, meaning that it might have been seen by millions.
A favourite destination for sun worshippers this time is Easter Island, 3,510 km (2,180 mi) west of mainland Chile. The influx from all over the globe will temporarily treble the population of the island – famous for its 887 ancient stone statues, called moais.
Usually there are around 2,000 people living in the island’s single village of Hanga Roa. But another 4,000 are expected to fly into its airport on eclipse expeditions. They are said to include Google co-founder Larry Page aboard his private jet.
The spectacle begins when the Moon’s shadow touches the Earth a few hundred miles north of New Zealand. But it only crosses Mangaia in the Cook Islands and a few deserted atolls in the South Pacific before it reaches Easter Island. After that it hit the southernmost tip of South America just as the Sun is low in the sky and about to set.
Many eclipse fans have booked trips on cruise liners which will steer them to the eclipse track. And some have even paid thousands of dollars to charter aircraft to take them above cloud-level for a view.
• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available. Check out our monthly sky guide too!
Paul Sutherland blogs at Skymania News