Eclipses have always exercised an almost magical power over men, but a total solar eclipse, wherever it happens, is one of nature's most amazing astronomical phenomena. When the location is Easter Island, the mysterious and esoteric site of the giant stone statues, it's little wonder that it's exciting the interest of scientists, astronomers and the general public alike.
The up-coming eclipse will be visible in various parts of the Pacific, most notably Easter Island, a land with an ancient history of astronomical knowledge. Here, the Rapa Nui civilisation erected the enormous stone statues called moai, which appear to have been deliberately lined up according to the position of the Earth during the equinoxes and solstices.
Easter Island is one of the most remote locations on the planet; it belongs to Chile, but lies 3,700 kilometres from that country's coast. 'Totality' for this year's eclipse – the period when sunlight is completely blocked - lasts less than five minutes, but has incited a flurry of additional tourism on the island, where the "eclipse chasers" will stay in hotels, private homes and on boats.
The exclusive Explora Hotel is offering a three-night special for 1,847 €, which includes accommodation and full board as well as the additional incentive of guided walks, boat trips and cycling tours in the company of experts who will reveal – although not, presumably, explain – some of the unsolved riddles of the moai and other archaeological sites on the island.
The path of this year's total solar eclipse passes just 20 kilometres south of Tahiti, in French Polynesia, and the island is preparing for more than five and a half thousand additional visitors. Cruises and charter flights are also being arranged to intercept the shadow path and view the unique celestial phenomenon.
The 76 islands and atolls of the Tuamotus will offer the best view, and Air Tahiti Nui is planning a four-hour charter flight over the archipelago for the occasion. The Paul Gauguin cruise company has organised a cruise in the company of the astronomy professor Alex Filippenko, while Aranui 3 cruises have also scheduled a special excursion for this spectacular event.