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Total Solar Eclipse Draws Thousands of Tourists to S. Africa - 2002-12-03


A total solar eclipse will pass over southern Africa on Wednesday, and thousands of tourists from around the world have come to watch the spectacle.

A truck rumbles down the N-1 highway through the town of Musina. Just 17 kilometers north is the Zimbabwean border, and trucks usually make up most of the traffic that comes through town. Most of the time Musina is just a stop on the road to somewhere else.

But this week, things are different. Musina lies directly in the path of the total solar eclipse predicted for early Wednesday. So hundreds, if not thousands, of people have flocked to town from South Africa and around the world.

One tourist, Marcel van Laden, traveled to Musina with a busload of other visitors from the Netherlands. They have spent the last three weeks traveling through Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. But he says Wednesday's eclipse, which begins at 8:18 a.m. local time, will be the highlight of the trip.

"We are going to wake up tomorrow around three o'clock am, and then we drive to the 100 percent eclipse zone. And then [we are going to] see it," Marcel van Laden said.

He did not come to Africa just to see the eclipse. In fact, he did not even know it was happening until after he and his brother had booked their holiday. He and his brother, Sander, say they are happy about the coincidence.

The total eclipse is expected to last only slightly more than a minute in Musina. A partial eclipse will be visible for hundreds of kilometers to the south or north, but the sun will completely disappear along a narrow band arching from central Angola to southern Mozambique. It will also pass over South Africa's famed Kruger Game Reserve, as well as parts of Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Scientists who are in town to study the solar phenomenon are looking forward to an excellent view. Forecasters are predicting clear skies.

A solar eclipse happens when the moon comes between the earth and the sun, blocking the sun from view. They are considered rare events, but this is the second eclipse in southern Africa in less than two years. The last one was in June 2001, passing over Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique and Madagascar.