The total solar eclipse predicted for July 11 will create quite the show in one of the most beautiful places on Earth — the constellation of islands that comprise French Polynesia.
The islands of French Polynesia have for centuries attracted navigators, explorers, artists and travelers. Now we can add to that list astronomers, eclipse chasers and those simply curious about the workings of the cosmos. That’s because on July 11, a total eclipse of the sun is predicted to put on a solar show over the far-flung islands of the region, which cover an area approximately the size of Europe. By eclipse standards, this an exceptional event, predicted to last almost five minutes (four minutes and 45 seconds to be exact) from the best-located islands, offering enthusiasts unsurpassed observation conditions.
Possible locations where the phenomenon can be observed include:
The Society Islands, the Tuamotu Archipelago (the atolls of ‘Anaa, Motutuga, Haraiki, Reritou, Marutea, Nihirū and Hikueru, which will all experience a four minute and 20 second eclipse), or Tekokota, Marokau, Ravahere, Rekareka, Tauere, Hao, ‘Amanu and Tatakoto, which will see the eclipse for around four minutes and 45 seconds. If you’re thinking last-minute eclipse run, note that the Tuamotus aren’t an option as all flights and lodging for the atolls have already been booked.
The eclipse will be also be visible however from the Society Islands (which have many more lodging options), especially on the following islands:
- Tahiti will experience a near-total 99.1% eclipse
- Mo’orea next door to Tahiti will have 98.6% coverage
- Huahine will see 95.2%
- Taha’a 94.4%
- Bora Bora 93.7%
What happens during an eclipse?
A solar eclipse is an impressive astral phenomenon that has forever fascinated or frightened the human race. During a solar eclipse the sun progressively disappears during the day and the sky becomes dark for a few minutes. This relatively rare astral phenomenon takes place when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun. This can only happen during a new moon when the sun and moon are in conjunction in respect to the Earth. Solar eclipses are distinguished by whether the moon completely or only partially covers the solar disc.
Polynesia’s exceptional conditions
With its near-absence of light pollution, the Polynesian sky is ideal for any sort of stargazing. Enthusiasts also benefit from a very large observable sky area and an uninterrupted celestial dome especially impressive to those coming from the Northern Hemisphere (47 constellations are visible in the Southern Hemisphere compared to 29 in the Northern Hemisphere).
The Southern Cross (called Tauhā in Tahitian), Scorpio (Te matau ā Māui) and The Pleiades (Matāri’i) are only a few of the numerous famous constellations visible in Polynesia. Some of these can be seen throughout the year while others are only visible at certain times.
With their stories carried down through oral tradition, constellations held an important place in the daily secular and spiritual lives of ancient Polynesians. Stars regulated the rhythms of the seasons, agriculture and fishing, marked time and guided great ocean voyages. At the same time, Polynesians had a deep understanding of the stars, their positioning and movement and this is how they were able to navigate the great Pacific (Te Moana ō Hiva in Tahitian) without a compass and colonize the isles of the Pacific in their grand double outrigger canoes.
If you’re interested in learning more about the culture and tradition of Polynesian celestial navigation, an excellent new resource called Never Lost launched recently. It explores ancient navigation techniques that were almost lost, but are now enjoying a revival across the Pacific.