On the Road: 2010 eclipse on Easter Island

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Monday, July 12, 2010

Update: Check out two blogs with pictures of the eclipse from my tour group! 2010 eclipse pictures from Easter Island and On the Road: Easter Island and the Moai 

I woke up yesterday (July 11) to rain, then a bit of blue sky, then more rain. Our meteorologist from Holland, Harry, predicted mostly clear skies at eclipse time. Well, he was right!

The eclipse happened as our group and about 1,000 other lucky souls watched this exercise of sublime celestial geometry in wide-eyed wonder. The Sun stood in the northwestern sky as the Moon slowly overtook it from the west. At 12:40 p.m. local time, our lone natural satellite took the first nip out of the solar disk. Things didn’t change much for 30 minutes, but then we noticed that the colors seemed off somehow. As totality approached, our shadows became incredibly well-defined. With about 10 minutes to go, the area darkened noticeably. Two minutes before totality started, clouds on the eastern horizon began to grow dim. The shadow was approaching!

The main show began with a stunningly radiant diamond ring — when, simultaneously, the last tiny percent of the solar disk blazes and the corona envelops the Moon’s disk. Very beautiful. Then it was the corona’s turn. Two triangular streamers emanated toward the west while a single wide column of gas pointed from the Sun to the east.

At this point, I took time to look around the sky. Venus was brilliant and had appeared more than 10 minutes prior to totality. One-third the way from the Sun to Venus, Mercury was now visible. Above the Sun, Sirius, the night sky’s brightest star, was easy to see. South of Sirius, the second-brightest star, Canopus, shone with a yellow light. Near the midpoint of totality, I turned toward the south and found Alpha Centauri, the third-brightest star and the closest star system to Earth. Through binoculars, I also saw Regulus (near Venus) and Pollux (near the Sun).

For the next minute, I took in the wide view. The Sun hung nearly halfway up in the sky while on Earth directly below it, seven fabulous sculptures — the Moai of Easter Island — gave mute testimony. I’ve now traveled to 12 total solar eclipses, and I cannot imagine a more exotic location from which to view one.

I never photograph during an eclipse, but many in our group did, and their pictures are fabulous. You’ll see some in Astronomy magazine and online soon. I did set up a small video camera and recorded a movie from about 8 minutes before totality through that event. It records the darkening of our surroundings, and I’ll also post that when I return. Needless to say, our group was ecstatic. Some were moved to tears. And already I’m hearing the great question: When is the next one?

Related blogs:

On the Road: 2010 eclipse trip — Arica, Chile

Senior editor reaches Chile

Senior editor off to Easter Island

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