Total eclipse: Stargazers flood south Pacific for astronomical oddity

Saturday June 15, 2019 Written by Published in National

Well-heeled stargazers and astronomers from around the world will converge on the Cook Islands and the south Pacific this month, ahead of a rare total solar eclipse.

The July 2 eclipse will reach “totality” when the sun is totally obscured by the moon, over an empty expanse of ocean south of the Cooks and French Polynesia.

The eclipse is a huge tourist attraction expected to bring large numbers of tourists to Chile and Tahiti, and smaller numbers to the Cooks.

Several cruise lines are offering special trips to areas south of French Polynesia offering the best views of totality.

TravelQuest International is charging $14,500 for a berth on its boutique luxury liner the Gauguin, named in honour of impressionist painter Paul Gauguin who visited French Polynesia at the turn of the 19th Century.

Alternatively, two groups have chartered airliners to cruise above the clouds, allowing them to keep pace with the eclipse for up to nine minutes.

Stuff NZ photographer Lawrence Smith took this the photograph (right) at the last solar eclipse in Oregon, USA. He says an eclipse is nature’s greatest performance, and he is already planning his next eclipse pursuit.

“When the movements of the two planets, the Sun and the Moon, come together and reach totality, everything gently slows and stops. The light dims, the birds quite their chattering and silence prevails,” Smith says. “It’s an unsubtle reminder to us down here that bigger things are at play. It’s fragile, and we have to tread very carefully.”

Rarotonga astronomer Phil Evans said the Cooks weren’t quite in the path of the total solar eclipse, but should see a partial eclipse in the northeast, low in the sky at 7:52am on July 2.

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