SANTIAGO – Thousands of Chileans turned out on Tuesday on the streets of Santiago and on the summit of San Cristobal Hill to view a total solar eclipse that was visible across a large portion of southern South America.
Many people gathered in public parks, terraces and hills to get the best view of the relatively rare, albeit predictable, celestial event.
The eclipse began at 3:30 pm with people beginning to look skyward for a few seconds at a time, as had been recommended in recent days by experts with the aim of preventing irreparable damage to their eyes, which would quite likely be caused if they simply stared upwards at the eclipsing Sun.
The types of eye protection used by Santiago residents varied from typical paper “lenses” to welders’ goggles or specially-made sunglasses for astronomy buffs.
When the Moon completely covered the Sun’s disk, about 4:40 pm, Santiago residents could detect a marked drop in the temperature, given that the Sun’s light – and heat – was being blocked by the intervening Moon.
But at that point all over the capital and elsewhere people began applauding and cheering wildly.
Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Cristian Monckeberg told EFE on the summit of San Cristobal Hill that the eclipse “was a success in the Chilean capital, especially on the hill,” which rises near downtown.
“This was a good spot to see the eclipse and everything went very well. Slowly, we got to about 20,000 people on the summit ... and when things go well, especially in seeing these historic things, the people respond,” he said.
After passing from west to east across Chile, the path of totality continued eastwards toward Buenos Aires and then out over the Atlantic Ocean.
The eclipse was also visible – albeit only partially – in Paraguay, Uruguay, Peru and Brazil.
This total solar eclipse is the first of two occurring relatively close together in time, the next one taking place on Dec. 14, 2020, and being visible in southern Chile.
Among the many erroneous myths and legends surrounding eclipses is the claim that if a pregnant woman looks at an eclipse and touches a part of her body her baby will be born with a birthmark on that part of its anatomy.
Also, some say that an eclipse can be viewed safely if one looks through a piece of glass darkened by the soot from a candle flame or through a plastic X-ray sheet.
All these beliefs are myths, according to astrophotographer Arturo Gomez, who has 40 years of experience in the field and said that he has never heard of a real baby who received a birthmark in the womb during an eclipse.
Regarding using smoked glass through which to view an eclipse, Gomez warned that it’s a dangerous way to view the celestial event. “Smoked glass and X-rays don’t filter the ultraviolent or the infrared radiation and let 100 percent of the dangerous rays (from the Sun) pass into the retina of the eye,” he said.
“Although the Sun is shining like a little bright fingernail, we must always use special lenses” to directly view an eclipse, he said.
Gomez was even more critical of so-called prophesiers linked to eclipses like numerologists, Tarot card readers, horoscope casters and “witches,” along with pseudo-connections between eclipses and “disasters and crude conspiracies.”
“They talk about the constellations of the zodiac and their influences on us. Of all those people, none has stated or gotten right the constellation in which the Sun and the Moon will be this afternoon at the eclipse maximum,” he said, adding that these celestial bodies will be in the constellation Gemini.
Gomez added that although eclipses are being talked about and explained more, “people understand less and are more confused about the event, (not least due to) the enormous amount of erroneous and fake information that pervades the social networks.”