Chileans will turn their eyes to the sky on Monday to admire another total solar eclipse, but unlike that seen last year, the number of lucky people plunged into semi-darkness will be sharply reduced due to health restrictions.
In July 2019, the spectacular phenomenon darkened the pure skies of northern Chile, where several astronomical observatories are located, and gathered 300,000 people in the middle of the Atacama Desert.
Monday, it will be the region of Araucania, some 800 km south of Santiago, which will be crossed by the trajectory of the lunar shadow. It will be a very special event for the indigenous Mapuche communities who live there, but health restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus will limit its sight to as many people as possible.
As of Thursday, travel outside the Santiago metropolitan region, home to 7.1 million of the country’s 15 million people, has been banned after an increase in the number of positive cases.
This measure discouraged many candidates from observing this new alignment between the Earth, the Moon and the Sun expected at 1 p.m. local time.
To witness this total eclipse, it will be necessary to be on the trajectory of the lunar shadow, on this narrow strip of 90 km where the black will be total for two minutes and nine seconds.
With the imposing Villarrica volcano – one of the most active in Chile – and the rich lush vegetation of the south of the country as a backdrop, the phenomenon will then cross the Andes mountain range to be observed in Argentina, especially at the city level. tourist attraction of Bariloche (south), before disappearing into the waters of the South Atlantic.
“A two-minute night during which nature changes”, the popular Chilean astronomer José Maza delights in advance, describing this magical moment when the colors of the sky are transformed, taking a strange purple hue, and revealing in broad daylight. stars, but also planets such as Jupiter, Saturn or Venus.
“At the time of the eclipse, the temperature drops by about five degrees and the wind picks up, so if people are not sheltered they will be slightly cold,” he explains.
Every year there are two total eclipses of the Sun, but depending on the time of year and the time of day, they are more or less visible to the population.
If that of July 2019 had occurred at sunset, Monday the sun will eclipse around noon.
“At noon, the phenomenon will be high in the sky and the exit from the eclipse will be much better”, rejoices Mr. Maza.
After the big rally in the Atacama desert last year, the Araucanía region was excited to receive thousands of tourists.
But once again, COVID-19 has turned plans upside down.
Some 564,778 positive cases have been detected in Chile and 15,690 people have since died.
The authorities fear that a few weeks before the end of the year celebrations, many gatherings will trigger new outbreaks of infection.
Strict controls were announced on the outskirts of the zone of total darkness, in addition to the ban on driving the day before and the day after the cosmic phenomenon.
The Mapuche natives, who have a strong relationship with nature and the universe, will look up with fervor, their feet anchored in their ancestral land.
For centuries solar eclipses have been viewed as a dramatic, unpredictable event that heralds the death of the Sun.
“The primitive peoples worshiped the Sun as a god, they were already aware that all that we are, we owe it to the Sun”, estimates the astronomer José Maza.