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South Americans marvel at total solar eclipse

Updated July 04, 2019

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A VIEW of the solar eclipse from an airliner flying over La Serena, Chile. — AFP
A VIEW of the solar eclipse from an airliner flying over La Serena, Chile. — AFP

LA HIGUERA: A rare total solar eclipse plunged a vast swath of Latin America’s southern cone into darkness on Tuesday, briefly turning day into night and enthralling huge crowds in much of Chile and Argentina.

Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Chile’s northern Coquimbo region near the Atacama desert — festooned with some of the planet’s most powerful telescopes — which was situated directly on the eclipse’s 100-mile-wide “path of tota­lity.” Large crowds congregated in the town of La Higuera, some 2,400 metres above sea level and near the landmark La Silla Observa­tory, operated by the Euro­pean Southern Observatory.

“I don’t believe there’s a better place in the world to see an eclipse than La Silla,” said Australian tourist Betsy Clark.

Clark and her family were among thousands who flocked to the craggy peaks around the observatory on Tuesday.

They were not disappointed. The eclipse had its longest duration as it made to La Silla: 2.36 minutes.

“It was an experience to last several lifetimes,” said Chilean tourist Rene Serey.

The area where the observatory is located, with its dry weather, crystal-clear air and low light pollution, is a stargazers’ paradise.

To the west, in the coastal town of La Serena, thousands of people on the beach cheered and clapped at the moment when the Moon closed over the Sun and blocked it out completely.

Total solar eclipses are rare, but what is even rarer about Tuesday’s event is that it occurred directly over an area of the Earth most prepared to study the heavenly bodies.

“Very seldom has it happened that the whole of an eclipse is seen over an observatory, the last time this happened was in ‘91” at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii, said Matias Jones, an astronomer at La Silla.

Both Chile and Argentina were situated under the narrow, 6,000-mile long band of Earth that experienced the eclipse.Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera joined the crowds at La Higuera to witness the eclipse.

“Today is a very important day and one we have waited for so long,” said Pinera.

Pinera said Chile was “the capital of the world in terms of astronomy, we are the eyes and the senses of humanity, being able to look, observe and study the stars and the Universe.”

The La Silla observatory and its fleet of powerful telescopes live streamed the event.

Over the border in Argen_tina, people massed to look into the sky in the western Cuyo wine-producing region, which had the country’s longest exposure to the eclipse. However little could be seen in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, where overcast weather blocked the view.

The next total eclipse will be visible in southern Chile on December 14, 2020.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2019