The rare and awe-inspiring spectacle of a total solar eclipse unfolded over parts of Indonesia and the Indian and Pacific Oceans, around midday Wednesday local time. Thanks to clear skies, the full eclipse was visible to several million people within its narrow path, including eclipse chasers who traveled from around the world for a chance to witness it. Those in Indonesia had the best vantage point. The moon blacked out the sun in totality over Indonesia's main western island of Sumatra, before moving eastwards across Sulawesi and Borneo, and then over to the Maluku Islands. The eclipse was also partially visible in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hawaii and northern Australia.
The phenomenon, which occurs when the moon moves directly between the Earth and sun, was first visible in Western Indonesia at 6:20 a.m. Wednesday, March 9 local time (5:20 p.m. ET Tuesday, March 8).
Palembang in Sumatra was the first major city to see the total eclipse, at about 7:20 a.m. local time (7:20 p.m. ET). The position at which the total eclipse lasted the longest, 4 minutes and 9 seconds, is in the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines. On land, the durations were mostly between 1 and 3 minutes.
Authorities had been promoting the eclipse as a tourism event locally and internationally since 2014. Because of their rarity, total eclipses are a magnet for scientists and eclipse chasers. Overseas tour agencies had chartered ships for groups who wanted to view the eclipse at sea and many land tours, which are the best for photography, were also organized. Oklahoma-based Spears Travel says a group led by a former NASA scientist was booked on a special Holland America Line cruise that included people from Canada, the U.S., Britain, China and Iran.
Some people caught a flight from Alaska to Hawaii for prime viewing of the eclipse. A dozen eclipse enthusiasts were among the 181 passengers on the plane that departed Anchorage for Honolulu.
Joe Rao, an associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium in New York, called Alaska Airlines last fall, explaining that the flight would be in the right place for the eclipse. The route was expected to encounter the darkest shadow of the moon as it passed over Earth.
While residents of islands and nations in the Western Pacific looked up in the early morning hours to observe a total eclipse of the Sun, NASA/NOAA Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) looked down from space and captured the shadow of the Moon marching across Earth’s sunlit face.
The animation above was assembled from 13 images acquired on March 9, 2016, by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four-megapixel charge-coupled device (CCD) and Cassegrain telescope on the DSCOVR satellite.
“What is unique for us is that being near the Sun-Earth line, we follow the complete passage of the lunar shadow from one edge of the Earth to the other,” said Adam Szabo, NASA’s project scientist for DSCOVR. “A geosynchronous satellite would have to be lucky to have the middle of an eclipse at noon local time for it. I am not aware of anybody ever capturing the full eclipse in one set of images or video.”
The astronomy news service Slooh.com, was streaming the event online in a broadcast starting 6 p.m. ET hosted by astronomer Paul Cox and a team from the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, who will answer questions from the public.
The last total solar eclipse occurred on March 20, 2015, and was only visible from the Faroe Islands and Norway’s Arctic Svalbard archipelago.
The next total solar eclipse is on August 21, 2017 and will be visible from a narrow corridor across the United States.