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Thursday, February 26, 1998 Published at 18:30 GMT


Shadow falls over South America

  • Watch a recording of the total eclipse by clicking here.

    It was filmed from Oranjestad on the island of Aruba in the Dutch Antilles at 1800gmt on February 26. You will need a RealPlayer which can be downloaded from Real Networks

    Parts of South America and the Caribbean have been plunged into darkness in a total eclipse of the sun. It proved to be to be one of the most impressive eclipses in recent years.

    The phenomenon began at 1546 GMT in the Pacific ocean, 1,900 miles southeast of the Hawaiian islands.

    A partial eclipse could also be seen in parts of the United States, eastern Canada and as far south as Brazil and Bolivia.

    Simply put, an eclipse of the sun occurs when the moon crosses in front of the sun, blocking its light for a few minutes.

    Those enthusiasts keen to see the event but living in the wrong part of the world, could watch it on the Internet.

    NASA was showing live images of the eclipse in a "webcast" from 1700 to 1900 GMT and saw heavy traffic.

    This was the last solar eclipse visible in the Americas until the year 2017.

    The hand of God

    Dr Fred Espinak of NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Centre has witnessed more than 20 eclipses. He described what it is like to watch one:

    "The total eclipse itself only lasts about three minutes or so, but the partial phases leading up to that total eclipse take about an hour and a half. It is a very gradual event, as the moon slowly moves across the sun's surface.

    "During the last couple of minutes ... the sky starts getting dark, you notice the drop in the air temperature, very often birds come to roost into their nests, as though it is sunset. Even plants sometimes - flowers start to close up as if it is night time.

    "During the last thirty seconds or so the sky rapidly drops in brightness, almost as though God himself has his hand on a huge rheostat and he is turning down the house lights.

    "At that point, when you look back up at the sun, that blindingly bright crescent is replaced by a dazzling bead of sunlight, shining through the last valleys along the moons edge, as the sun's solar corona flashes into view and you are plunged into darkness," he said.

    Path of the eclipse

    The eclipse could first be seen from land in the Galapagos islands at 16.56 GMT. It extended in a 93-mile (150km) wide band from the islands, over parts of northern South America and across the Caribbean Sea.

    The longest period of darkness, which lasts a little over four minutes, took place over the Pacific ocean, 400 miles west of Columbia.

    At 1743 GMT, the eclipse first passed over South America and followed the border between Panama and Columbia. At this point those in the centre of the shadow cast by the moon experienced nearly four minutes of total darkness.

    Next, the shadow crossed along the Andes into north-western Venezuela and into the Caribbean. The eclipse encompassed the islands of Aruba, Curacao, Montserrat, Antigua and Guadeloupe. Those watching there were in the dark for just over three minutes.

    The path of the eclipse continued over the sea and ended at about 600 miles west of Morocco. At this point the moon's shadow fell away from the earth and back into space.

    It lasted approximately 3 hours and 23 minutes in total and travelled along an 8,600 mile path.

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    Internet Links

    Eclipse 98

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    Nasa Eclipse Information

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