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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 12:22 GMT
Antarctic witnesses total eclipse
Eclipse, AP/Kyodo
A partial solar eclipse seen at the Japanese Showa Base
It was visible for barely two minutes, but enthusiastic sky watchers paid through the nose to watch Sunday's total eclipse of the Sun in Antarctica.

As the Sun dived behind the Moon, it cast a shadow on the White Continent in an enormous 5,000-kilometre-long arc.

The spectacle was the first recorded total eclipse of the Sun in Antarctica.

A group of around 300 stargazers, eclipse chasers and scientists in a Boeing 747 plane got a spectacular view of the phenomenon at exactly 2240 GMT.

Those on board the specially chartered Qantas plane, on a round-trip from Melbourne, had paid up to AU$12,000 (5,096) and came from as far afield as Houston, Texas, US.

Rising Sun

A shipload of tourists watched from the comfort of a cruise ship off the Russian Antarctic base of Mirny.

Others braved freezing temperatures to watch the eclipse out on the ice.

One young woman ran three km across frozen sea-ice while some of her colleagues skied for the best view.

Scientist Bob Jones, station leader at Australia's Davis Antarctic Base, travelled by snow car with nine colleagues across the sea-ice to catch a better view of the eclipse from an island three km closer than the base.

"Some people skied across, and one young woman actually ran across to this island because of course at the moment it's surrounded by ice," Mr Jones said.

"From the beginning of the eclipse it was about six degrees above the horizon. It rose to about 10 degrees, so it was higher in the sky than I would have thought," Mr Jones added.

Penguin eggs

Astronomer Brian Carter from New Zealand's Carter Observatory calculated an arc of the eclipse 700 km wide and 5,000 km long.

The Moon began shading the face of the Sun at 1108 (2208 GMT) at New Zealand's Scott Base and the nearby US McMurdo Station on the northern Antarctic Coast.

Natalie Cadenhead, Antarctica New Zealand's information officer, said staff at Scott Base used welding masks to shield the lenses of their cameras as they tried to capture the eclipse on film.

Mr Jones, a veterinary pathologist from Victoria in Australia, said the local wildlife was unfazed by the solar phenomenon.

He said there was no discernable change in the penguins that were incubating their eggs out on the ice.

"[The penguins] didn't show any degree of agitation or worry or anything," Mr Jones said.

Two years' time

The path of the Moon's so-called umbral shadow - total darkness - began at 2219 GMT in the southern Indian Ocean about 1,100 kilometres southeast of Kerguelen Island.

Moving south, the path of totality reached the coast of Antarctica at 2235 GMT.

The instant of greatest eclipse occurred in Wilkes Land at 2249:17 GMT. The Sun was blocked out completely at this point for one minute 55 seconds.

The path left the Antarctic continent at Queen Maud Land at 2317 GMT, before lifting off the Earth's surface at 2319 GMT.

Partial eclipses also occurred over parts of Australia, southern New Zealand, southern Argentina and Chile.

The next total eclipse will be in April 2005, when it will be visible only in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.


SEE ALSO:
White Continent to go black
21 Nov 03  |  Science/Nature
Skywatchers see 'ring of fire'
31 May 03  |  Science/Nature
Millions wonder at southern eclipse
04 Dec 02  |  Science/Nature


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