July 9, 2010
Solar Eclipse To Take Place On Sunday
The French Polynesias will experience the islands' first solar eclipse in 350 years on Sunday.
According to tourism minister Steeve Hamblin, over 5,000 tourists are expected in the Pacific islands for the eclipse, a mini-boom likely to bring in roughly $10.6 million for the local economy.
The eclipse is due to take place between 7:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. local time, leaving those on the islands to have to choose between two major global events: the eclipse and the World Cup final.
"You will also be able to see the eclipse from Easter Island and the Cook Islands, but the weather conditions will be best in French Polynesia," Hamblin told AFP.
The influx of visitors is being welcomed in the French territory after the tourism industry has been struck by a cyclone and a tsunami in recent months.
Sky-gazers in Tahiti's main town Papeete will see a 98.8 percent eclipse at 8:27 a.m. on Sunday, while those that are in the center of the Tuamotu Archipelago will see the sun completely obscured.
The eclipse is expected to last four minutes and 41 seconds on the isolated atolls of Pukapuka et Tatakoto.
The Tuamotus are expecting about 2,000 visitors, while Hao, one of the more developed atolls, is planning to use school buildings to accommodate an expected influx of over 1,000.
All the hotels on Tahiti, which is the most heavily populated island of French Polynesia, are fully booked.
Air Tahiti is adding 16 extra flights to the Tuamotus, while two cruise ships, a ferry and numerous sailing boats are also offering trips to see the spectacle.
An airliner from local long-haul carrier Air Tahiti Nui will fly over the Tuamotus throughout the eclipse with 300 passengers on board, while another plane from Australia will carry scientists from NASA at high altitude for the best observation conditions.
American astronomer Glenn Schneider told AFP news that the area would not see a similar eclipse again until August 4, 2176.
Local health authorities have launched an awareness campaign after a number of Polynesians damaged their eyesight during the last eclipse by watching it without proper protection for their eyes.
"This can lead to loss of vision by damaging the retina and sometimes it can be completely irreversible," Henri-Pierre Mallet, an official with the French Polynesian health service, told AFP.
About 12,000 pairs of special sunglasses have been ordered and gone on sale in opticians' offices, supermarkets and pharmacies.