12 Jul 2010

Eclipse travels across pacific

7:11 am on 12 July 2010

Tourists and scientists have poured into Easter Island ahead of this morning's solar eclipse, a mixed blessing of sorts for the tiny Pacific outpost.

An estimated 4000 tourists, scientists, photographers, filmmakers and journalists flocked to the Chilean island of only 160 square kilometres, doubling the population.

Some weather forecasts, however, warn of cloudy skies - potentially dashing hopes of a clear view.

The total solar eclipse will begin about 0630 GMT when a shadow falls on the South Pacific about 700 kilometres southeast of Tonga.

It will then zip in an easterly arc across the Pacific, eventually cloaking Easter Island and its mysterious giant statues at around 8am.

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

The eclipse, in Tahiti for example, has a chance of upstaging even the start of the World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands in South Africa at 1830 GMT.

Easter Island Governor Pedro Edmunds Paoa says the island has the capacity to absorb this number of tourists similar to the influx in the austral summer in January.

But authorities have increased security, especially around key heritage sites, including the 3000-year-old large stone statues, or moai, that put Easter Island, a far-flung ethnic Polynesian point of reference, on the world culture map.