Total Solar Eclipse Leaves Skywatchers Spellbound

Skies over parts of Indonesia and the Pacific Ocean were darkened the evening of Tuesday, March 8, during the what scientists say will be the only total solar eclipse of 2016, reported Discovery News. The event was visible in a 90-mile-wide path that included both land and sea, stretching across the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, and a number of other islands, ending at an empty patch of the Pacific located northeast of Hawaii.

Crowds formed to watch the total solar eclipse as the moon moved directly between the earth and the sun in a rare natural phenomenon. Onlookers reportedly brought picnics along and climbed atop the observatory roof and nearby firetrucks to get a better view, according to the Guardian.

“Crowds started to form at the observatory in central Jakarta as early as 3 a.m.”

The total solar eclipse gave the skies an eerie twilight hue as the first crescent became visible and progressed until more than 88 percent of the sun appeared to be “covered” as the moon cast its shadow over the earth. A solar eclipse is only possible during the new moon phase, which occurs when the moon is on the same side of the Earth as the sun.

Total Solar Eclipse Leaves Skywatchers Spellbound
[Photo by Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images]

Officials in Jakarta distributed around 4,000 pairs of glasses for onlookers to wear during the eclipse, but ultimately there were not enough to provide the entire crowd with protection. This led to some interesting improvised tools, including potato chip bags and old x-rays, which Abdul Rahman said were “very clear, better than the glasses.”

Other watchers compared the event to the last solar eclipse visible from Indonesia. Ongko Wiyono is a civil servant who woke up early to watch the event from the observatory with his wife and children.

“This time the government is giving the public the opportunity to see it and really encouraging us to learn about it.”

The eclipse happened at 6:19 a.m. Wednesday in Jakarta and was also visible in about half of Indonesia’s 24 provinces, reported the New York Times. The event inspired special prayer vigils, cultural dances, live music, and countless observation parties and marks the first total solar eclipse since March 20, 2015, an event that was only visible from the North Atlantic’s Faroe Islands and Norway’s Svalbard archipelago.

“Because of the eclipse’s trajectory, the regions of South Sumatra, Indonesian Borneo, Central Sulawesi and Eastern Indonesia got the best shows.”

The prime viewing location was in the small town of Ternate in the Maluku Islands of Eastern Indonesia, prompting international scientists to journey there for the event. Tens of thousands of Indonesians and foreign tourists also poured into the region, hoping for a glimpse of the only total solar eclipse of 2016. According to the New York Times, the eclipse reached its peak by 7:20 a.m.

“The sun was totally obscured in some areas of Indonesia for nearly three minutes, but the morning skies were back to normal within two hours of the eclipse’s start.”

The last solar eclipse visible from Indonesia happened in 1983, prompting the government to warn the public to stay inside to avoid negative health impacts and even blindness, prompting some pregnant women to seek refuge under blankets. Because staring directly at the sun does damage the eyes, this time around would-be viewers were instructed by officials to use special devices when observing the eclipse.

The 2016 total solar eclipse also coincides with the first supermoon of 2016, as the moon lines up with the sun to create a great-than-average effect on the Earth’s oceans.

[Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images]