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Wednesday, February 25, 1998 Published at 21:55 GMT


Historic solar eclipse nears

Thousands of astronomers and tourists have flocked to the coasts of Venezuela and northern Colombia to watch the last total solar eclipse in the western hemisphere this century.

The Moon will pass between the Earth and the Sun, projecting a 93-mile-wide shadow on a band extending from the Galapagos Islands, north-eastward over parts of northern Colombia and Venezuela and across the Caribbean sea.

A partial eclipse will be visible in a much wider area, including the south-eastern United States and central South America.

The phenomenon, set to start at about 1615GMT on Thursday when the Moon will slowly start moving in front of the Sun, will last about four minutes.

Last chance

It will be the last solar eclipse visible in the western hemisphere until 2017.

For those unable to resist the temptation to watch, the authorities have been busy spreading the safety message not to look directly at the Sun but to use filters.

However, the eclipse will also be visible on a much safer spot - the Internet.

Nasa said it would show live images of Thursday's eclipse in a 'Webcast' at

A group of 19 US and German scientists are due to fly aboard a Hercules transport plane over Panama to take infra-red photographs of the Sun's corona, the brilliant halo of light visible when the Sun is covered by the Moon's shadow.

Hotels reported a sellout in northern Colombia, Venezuela's Zulia and Falcon provinces, and on the Dutch Antilles islands of Curacao and Aruba, as tourists booked their rooms for the event.

The authorities said some 300 scientists had gathered in Maracaibo, capital of Zulia state bordering Colombia, from countries as far away as Russia, India and Japan.

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