NEWS

Eclipse to draw large crowds to tiny Aegean island of Kastellorizo

Amateur and professional astronomers from around the world will be heading next month for the eastern Aegean island of Kastellorizo, one of the best places to witness the total solar eclipse of March 29, which is visible from the island every 380 years. No other eclipse of this kind will be visible from anywhere else in Greece until 2088, and none on Kastellorizo until the 24th century. The moon will pass between the Earth and the sun, casting a shadow over the Earth beginning with Brazil and crossing northeast over Africa and Central Asia to end over Mongolia. Rooms on this small island east of Rhodes, with a permanent population of 350 inhabitants, are fully booked out for the event. «Due to the great interest in the phenomenon we were contacted by the minister for the Aegean, who told us that a passenger ship which can accommodate at least 1,000 people would be sent to the island,» said Mayor Pavlos Panigyris. A large number of the eclipse hunters will be arriving on chartered cruise ships, while passenger ferries from Rhodes will be tripled for the duration. In Athens there will be a partial eclipse of 87 percent, similar to the one which occurred in the summer of 1999. According to Nikos Matsopoulos, an astronomer at the Athens National Observatory, the solar eclipse will begin on Kastellorizo at 12.34 p.m., lasting until 1.55 p.m. It will be completely over at 3.12 p.m. In Athens, the 87 percent coverage will be at 1.48 p.m. «When the phenomenon is at its height, the sky darkens and stars become visible. Far away on the horizon is a strong red glow like sunset, the only indication that it is not exactly night,» said Aris Mylonas, vice president of the Greek Astronomy Union who has already seen two total eclipses and will be watching this year from south of the Jalu oasis in Libya. «The darkness comes so quickly that one’s eyes don’t have time to become accustomed to it. Those who want to photograph it will have to have their gear set up beforehand. When the eclipse is total, one can look at it with the naked eye,» he said. Although it is now easy to create eclipse conditions artificially, the natural phenomenon has not completely lost its scientific value. «It is a unique natural laboratory environment,» said Christos Goudis, director of the Athens National Observatory’s Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Einstein’s theory of relativity is of particular significance for eclipse hunters who travel the world at every opportunity of watching the phenomenon, according to astronomers. When the sky darkens, stars become visible that are normally obscured by the sun’s light. Matsopoulos explained that the light emitted by these stars is distorted, as it distorts space itself because of the sun’s gravity, something that has been interpreted by the theory of relativity. That is, there is no absolute space. Apart from Kastellorizo and Libya, astronomers will also be traveling to Antalya in Turkey, where chances of clear skies are also good.