12 Jul 2010

Solar spectacle eclipses World Cup in Pacific

3:55 pm on 12 July 2010

A total solar eclipse has crossed the South Pacific, witnessed by thousands of tourists and scientists on Chile's Easter Island.

The eclipse ended over southern parts of Chile and Argentina.

It started at 1815 GMT on Sunday about 700km south-east of Tonga, and reached Easter Island by 2011 GMT.

The population of the island - a Unesco World Heritage site - doubled to about 8000 for the event.

Some forecasters had warned cloudy skies could obscure a clear view of the eclipse, but the BBC reports that as the moment approached, stormy weather gave way to bright sunshine.

"It was like being in the stadium at night with artificial light. It was like being in a dark room with a 10-watt bulb," local official Francisco Haoa told AFP news agency.

"It started with a shadow. The skies were perfectly blue, with lots of wind which chased away the clouds. Everyone applauded."

Eclipse outshone World Cup

In Tahiti, where the eclipse began, crowds of football-mad Polynesians turned away from the World Cup final on TV to look to the skies instead.

"It was like the Sun was smiling," said eight-year-old Hinanui. "The Sun seemed like a horizontal crescent, then the Moon covered up the bottom of the Sun which reappeared again as a crescent."

Easter Island was considered to be the best vantage point for the eclipse - a brief period when the sun, moon and earth are all aligned.

The eclipse started at 1815 GMT on Sunday about 700km south-east of Tonga, reaching Easter Island by 2011 GMT. It had been expected to last for four minutes and 41 seconds there.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, blocking its rays and casting a shadow.

The eclipse followed an 11,000km path, mostly over the Pacific Ocean.