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Total Solar Eclipse Over Southern Hemisphere Sunday

Skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere can expect a total solar eclipse this Sunday, July 11.

Holly Gilbert, an astrophysicist at NASA, explains the science behind the spectacle of the sun's disappearance.

"So during a total solar eclipse, the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth, and it casts a shadow on the Earth. And for those people that happen to be in that small area where the shadow is, they're going to experience what we call a total solar eclipse," Gilbert says. "The moon just happens to be at the exact perfect distance away from the Earth that it completely blocks out just the disc of the sun."

Fred Espenak, who earned the nickname "Mr. Eclipse" at NASA, says the central eclipse path begins Sunday in the South Pacific, about 700 kilometers southeast of Tonga, at 18:15 Universal Time, or UTC. He says the path ends in southern Argentina at 20:52 UTC.

"The path of the Moon's shadow starts about a thousand miles [1,600 kilometers] north of New Zealand and sweeps across the Pacific Ocean and it ends at sunset in Tierra del Fuego in Chile and Argentina," Espenak explains.

Skywatchers - take note. Experts say that even when 99 percent of the sun's surface is obscured, the remaining crescent is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn. But, they say, it is safe to look up at the total eclipse of the sun with the naked eye.

Where to watch

NASA astrophysicist Mitzi Adams says some of the prime places to view this eclipse are already on many travelers' wish lists, including her own.

"Do you like the South Pacific?" she asked with a laugh. "Probably the best thing to do would be to take a cruise in the South Pacific. Totality can be seen from Easter Island, from the Cook Islands. If you like the southern tip of South America, Patagonia. I've really always wanted to go to Patagonia. That's a great place to observe the eclipse."

And, indeed, there will be people traveling to witness this celestial spectacle. Various tour organizers have offered now sold-out Solar Eclipse travel packages that include trips to and around the South Pacific.

Astrophysicist Fred Espenak can understand the allure of experiencing it on Easter Island, where the total eclipse will last about five minutes.

"One of the most unique things about this particular eclipse is that it crosses a very interesting archaeological site, Easter Island," he says. "And, on Easter Island, there are these great statues that were erected 1,000, 1,500 years ago - a lot of mystery about these statues. But in any case this is the first total eclipse that's hit the island in about 1,400 years."


In Argentina, in ancient times, people explained the solar eclipse by saying a jaguar ate the sun.

Mitzi Adams, an astrophysicist at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, says that is just one of many myths linked to celestial happenings, as people came up with legends to explain what was unknown and frightening.

"There are quite a few linked to solar and lunar eclipses," says Adams. "I think probably, in my experience with myths and legends, [there are more stories about] the solar eclipses because they occur during the day [and] are much more dramatic because you are going from daylight to darkness."

Ancient myths explained that daylight-to-darkness phenomenon with multiple variations on a similar theme. In India, Indonesia and China, the sun-eating beast was a dragon. Siberians heard tales of sun-swallowing vampires. In Vietnam, the sun was devoured by a giant frog.