On the Road: Easter Island and the Moai

Posted by Michael Bakich
on Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Fellow traveler Heather Mellows caught a beautiful wide-field image of the total solar eclipse July 11, 2010. Heather Mellows photo
Monday, July 12, may have been the most relaxing day of my life. Why? Because the day before, our eclipse expedition group on Easter Island saw this year’s total solar eclipse. As the astronomer on this trip, I felt some tension leading up to the celestial event. But now that we’ve seen it, the pressure is off. Everyone loves me! (OK, everyone likes me.) And they were even willing to share some more pictures of the eclipse with Astronomy readers.

The three dozen in our group were still buzzing about the eclipse as we embarked on a tour of the eastern side of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). First, we stopped at an unrestored site so we could gain some appreciation as to the condition archaeologists found the Moai (large stone sculptures). Even lying down, these behemoths are impressive.

The Moon's shadow creeps over the Sun July 11, 2010. Bill Lider photo
Our next stop was the quarry where workers carved nearly all of the more than 800 statues. Some 300 remain at the quarry in various states of completion. This was a most impressive site. We hiked up and down (always staying on the paths because park rangers were omnipresent), and I took some great photos I can’t wait to share when I get back to Wisconsin and to my camera cord.

The material the statues are made from is volcanic tuff. It’s a relatively soft, porous rock that’s easy to carve. My wife, Holley, called it the stone version of balsa wood. The largest of the Moai, still attached to the hill at the quarry, stretches 21 meters from top to bottom. The pictures won’t do it justice because we couldn’t get close enough to create a scale.

The eclipse reaches totality from Easter Island July 11, 2010. Bill Lider photo
After the quarry, we headed to Tonga Riki, which probably features the most photographed (and therefore the most recognized) group of statues on the island. Fifteen Moai stand in a row atop an ahu (the platform upon which they sit). I suggested we take a group shot here, and everyone agreed. Immediately afterward, the clouds opened up and a heavy rain drenched most of us.

Our last stop was the beach. Some in our group took advantage of this and went swimming. The rest of us toured more nearby Moai.

All in all, it was a terrific, relaxing day.

George Willis captured the most coveted Easter Island solar eclipse image: the total eclipse above the famous Moai (large stone sculptures). George Willis photo
Related blogs:

2010 eclipse pictures from Easter Island

On the Road: 2010 eclipse on Easter Island

On the Road: 2010 eclipse trip — Arica, Chile

Senior editor reaches Chile

Senior editor off to Easter Island











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