Solar Eclipse in Tahiti, French Polynesia, July 11, 2010

Countdown to Eclipse


Tuamotu Islands

Author: Vaiana
Rangiroa. (Copyright: Philippe Bacchet)

Rangiroa. (Copyright: Philippe Bacchet)

The largest of the Polynesian archipelagos includes 76 islands and atolls extending over more than 20000 square kms. Asleep for many years, now it has come back to life through the establishment of some 250 pearl farms and tourism based on rich scuba diving sites which make it a winning destination.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to catch the Sun?

Author: Vaiana

Maui catching the sun

Maui is a key character of the Polynesian legends and cosmogony. He sometimes appears as a demi-god, a prophet or an ancestor. Stories narrating his extraordinary exploits are overspread nearly all the islands of the Polynesian triangle: New Zealand, Hawaii, Tahiti, Mangareva, Samoa and Tonga.

Maui attrapant le soleil - Bobby Holcomb

Maui attrapant le soleil avec un cheveu de Hina - (Copyright: Bobby Holcomb)

In Tahiti, the legend says that Maui caught the sun and forced him to slow down his race so that men and women can adequately feed themselves and complete their various works.

Upon creation of the world, the sun thought he received the bad part: since he considered he was the only one at work.
He looked with envy at people underneath on the ground, living quietly, and having rest… And as he was lazy, he decided to do the same!

“After all,” he told himself, “I am a god.”
“Men expect my coming and honour me, so I can do what I like!”

From now on, the sun rose up very late and rapidly crossed Tahiti’s sky to sink behind the island of Moorea, for a long, long night. And the earth was suffering badly.

There was not enough heat to warm up stones of ovens and not enough light to prepare meals.

Maui, a young warrior, saw the irritated lips of his bride, because she ate raw. When his sadness turned into anger, he decided to conquer the sun. He gathered the biggest creepers, the longest seaweed, and the strongest barks. When the pile was high as 5 men, he began to weave an extraordinary fishing net with creepers, seaweeds and barks. During the day he worked with the fast sun’s light, by night he worked underneath the starlight.

He had taken as main piece a long hair of his fiancée. The drowsy and hurried sun didn’t notice that the net was growing gradually.

As the trap was achieved, maui took advantage of the night. He threw the net on his shoulder and went up to the reef,  at the edge of the large hole through which the sun usually rose up from the sea. Then he waited.

Maui catching the Sun - (Copyright J. Boullaire)

Maui catching the Sun - (Copyright J. Boullaire)

After a long, long awake, he saw a light arose from the hole. The glow grew and coloured waves and clouds, it became more and more strong, more and more intense. The birds began to sing, and Maui knew that this light was the sun.

When the first rays were engaged in the hole, Maui threw his net, his huge net and covered the entire hole, trapping the sun. Realising he was prisoner, the latter struggled furiously, but the net held out. Twenty times he tried to escape into the sky. Twenty times he was pushed back. Twenty times he tried to return underground. Twenty times he was held back.

Then the sun began to warm up so intensely that the sea began to boil and the earth to crack, so strong that one to one, all links of the net burned. Seaweeds, creepers, pieces of bark … nothing withstood the immense flames… except the hair of the beautiful bride of Maui. The sun could jump, warm and swell; he was trapped by the neck and suffocated. It gradually lost its glare, and finally stopped, exhausted, defeated.

So Maui said:

- It’s me, Maui, I caught the sun.

And the sun was begging:

- Deliver me, Maui, I’m suffocating.

- NO! I won’t. You will remain tied forever because of the harm you did to my fiancee and my people. Their lips are burned by the raw saps and their eyes are full of night. You will remain a prisoner!

- Maui, if you do not set me free, I’ll die and if I die, neither you nor your people could ever live! Save me!

- Promise me first that our fishes and our vegetables will be cooked before the night!
- I promise!

Then Maui delivered the sun and the sun leaped into the sky.

Since that day the sun rises soon and sets late. It is so long in his race that we have time enough to cook fishes, vegetables and fruits and to eat three times a day before the night.

And sometimes when we watch the sunset, we can see, very quickly, a green thin net: it is the hair of the bride of Maui that was hanging there so that the sun never forgets his promise…

Source: HENRY Teuira – Tahiti to ancient times – Society Oceanists – Tahiti Heritage

Maui catching the sun-Illustration: Bobby Holcomb


An exceptional and magnificent event

A total solar eclipse is such an unusual phenomenon that some may travel thousands of miles to attend it. They can be Scientists or just astronomic amateurs flying from a continent to another. They are sometimes called eclipse’s chasers and tell us what encourages them to make such trips.

According to Philippe from the Astronomical Society of Tahiti (SAT), it is primarily the uniqueness of a total Solar eclipse that arouses such passion. In the region of Tahiti and her islands the next partial solar eclipse is scheduled for the year 2146 (see the ephemeris of the Observatory of Paris) when the next total Solar eclipse, it will only take place in about 4 centuries!

Explore remote areas…

“Majestic, magnificent, touching!” says Patrick from the association’s Adagio, “it is also a good opportunity to explore remote regions.”

Fabien has often escorted animated stays on the theme of the “Total Solar Eclipse” in Chile, Ecuador and Turkey. For him, “travellers who participate in such events seek the show during the eclipse with a complete stay and a guide with a top level”.
“We had an expert on astronomy for each group, he says, customers were passionates or had relationship with groups of amateur astronomers and some educated travellers.”

… and share wonderful emotions

Nadine is one of those passionate. She retains unforgettable memories of her first meeting with a total eclipse of the sun. “Tears streamed down my cheeks. The purple shadow had covered the lake and the mountains, the silence was total, like tangible, the atmosphere was poignant.”

She adds as well: “I have seen many eclipses since then, and the incredible perceptions I felt at these times have never been altered. That is why pictures, testimonials do not matter; each one must live these moments with its own soul and eyes.” (Read full text)
Here’s what Madeleine has reported from her stay in Benares, India, this famous July 22, 2009:
«Alongside the terrace are Indian photographers claiming with excitement: six minutes left… two minutes… and then there it is! Everything is plunged into dark, the moon completely covers the sun, and it’s fantastic! Everyone has goose-flesh… I take full advantage of this miracle of nature and it is really exciting! We are now waiting for the diamond effect: when the moon begins its descent, a flash of extraordinary light escapes, big like a diamond. This year it is particularly sparkling! We made it!” (Read full text)


That was so long ago, decades maybe, in a country of mountains and water. One evening my brother told me:

- Tomorrow morning I’ll take you to the lake, something is going to happen…
I was still a child and life was full of surprises.  I didn’t ask any question. Read the rest of this entry »

Benares, July 22, 2009. Sunrise is at 5.09.

It’s Morning mist. Nothing dangerous, no big cumulus clouds accumulating in the atmosphere, after the heavy rains of last night, that was feared…

We swift of hotel and terrace to have a better view on the east bank of the Ganges. At 5:45 am everybody is there with the television’s reporter with whom we have been since yesterday afternoon, waiting for the sun getting out the clouds. We just missed the first contact of the moon with the sun, but it does not matter … we can see the beginning now and the moon comes over and is slowly eating the sun for nearly an hour.

At 5:30 am the streets are already crowded. All newspapers, television, had advertised the event. As medias made their duty to educate, people didn’t hide in their homes for fearing for disaster of a mishap, they are more curious instead of superstitious. No ritual bath on this part of the Ganges, no prayers, no flowers or hands close together. There are only the glance and the expectation. Hardly distinguish the circle of light on the other side of the Ganges that climbs gently into the blue sky, marbled with small light clouds. Murmurs softly rise from the river banks.

As clouds hide the beginning of the moon biting the sun, they finally vanish and the festival begins. With our eyes secured beneath our solar eclipses sunglasses, we observe the almost vertically descent of the moon on the solar disk. The physical sensation is very different from the one we felt in China, where the moon came from the right and slid softly to the left as a gentle kiss.

Here, it becomes more interior and glutton, almost cannibalistic. Alongside the terrace are Indian photographers claiming with excitement: six minutes left… two minutes… and then there it is! Everything is plunged into dark, the moon completely covers the sun, and it’s fantastic! Everyone has goose-flesh… I take full advantage of this miracle of nature and it is really exciting! We are now waiting for the diamond effect: when the moon begins its descent, a flash of extraordinary light escapes, big like a diamond. This year it is particularly sparkling! We made it!
The crowd deeply hums. People take a bath in the Ganges to purify themselves. On the main ghats on the farther north, the crowd is huge and an old woman will fall overboard and lose her life, wrapped in her sari. During an hour cohort of beggars will receive handfuls of rice, the customary gift for the poor population in this special occasion. They will leave with their bags full of second-hand clothes donated by richer women. A few hours later, the soil will be strewn with grains of rice licked by the cows and goats, and filthy rags left behind.
The filmmaker is carried away,  he has to activate to send the report for the 01:00 pm news… and we celebrate that with a glass of mineral water, no alcohol allowed in a holy city… but we feel like drinking champagne!

Copyright: Madeleine Lacour

Photos : Joël Robic.


Eclipses don’t feature frequently in movies.

If the word “eclipse” appears in some movies titles, it is not always a reference to the astronomical phenomenon.  It is rather a metaphor of the ambiguity of a character or a situation.

Significant encounters in Classics of the cinema

Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (1962)
”L’eclisse” was realized in 1962 by Antonioni, the famous Italian filmmaker.  This movie expresses the impossibility of communication between human beings in the modern world. It depicts Vittoria (Monica Vitti), a young worried and indecisive woman. She has a poetic vision of the world, and is at odds with her family and social environment. While she has just split with her fiancé, breaking with a comfortable thus oppressive way of life, she engages a love affair with Piero (Alain Delon), a stockbroker who is her total opposite. This relationship gives rise to complex feelings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Georges Melies, the French pioneer of cinema and special effects, gives a melancholy and poetic interpretation of the eclipse in this black and white short film. Realized in 1907, it was entirely shot in a studio, and was featured during fairs. It is part of the « journeys through the impossible » series made between 1896 and 1914, which are « enchanting, mysterious, naive small films with poetic beauty but seem to be today obsolete» (Source: Wikipedia)

Below is an excerpt from « The Eclipse of the Sun Full Moon » by Georges Melies.

Eclipse and “orality” in mythological stories

Eclipses have been the support of many religious beliefs or mythological stories in most of the ancient civilisations or cultures.

In many of them, we can find this following scene: one’s star being swallowed, by another star, by a god, a malefic demon or an extraordinary animal.

“For many people, eclipses of the Moon or the Sun were explained by the extraordinary appetite of a wild or mythic animal, which devours one of the star.” (Source: CNES)

The first registered eclipse happened in China, around 2000 BC. Subjects of the Emperor used to consider it as the manifestation of the appetite of a dog or a wolf, wandering into the mythical heaven to devour the stars.

“This popular belief that still remains in the remotest areas of the country urged residents outside with gongs, rattles and other instruments in order to drive out the celestial animal, which was trying to eat the Sun or the Moon. Until the end of the last imperial dynasty (the Qing, 1911), this ritual din was nearly compulsory. For weeks earlier, the mandarins recommended to the population to attend this ceremony based on their calculations on the Imperial calendar (lunar). Posters entitled “Saving the Sun and the Moon” were stuck to the Yamen (office of imperial prefects). Whole regiments of the army also took part to the ritual noise. The effectiveness of this bedlam was inevitably confirmed by the fact that the “heavenly dog” let escape his prey once the eclipse was accomplished. By this way, the authority of the emperor, the “son of heaven”, was confirmed. (Source: Libération)


In Chinese language, the word eclipse is said “shi” which also means “eat“. In China and in several other Asian countries, the “eater” shows as a dragon. Indeed, most often the animal that eats the Sun or the Moon is frightening or fascinating in these people myths.”

Thus, the same story is found in Siberia with a vampire, a jaguar in Paraguay and giant frog in Vietnam. In Scandinavia, two wolves devoured the Sun for the one and the moon for the other. (Source: CNES)

In other civilizations

For the Polynesian people an eclipse of the sun or the moon was attributed to the wrath of the god Ra’a Mau-riri who would then swallow the star. (Teuira Henry, Tahiti in ancient times).

The Incas used to devote a cult to the Sun, with many rituals, and for them eclipses were truly a source of terror.

According to popular culture, lunar eclipses occur when the sun, plunged into a deep sleep, deviates from his usual path and risk falling, getting lost or being eaten by a hungry monster. To avoid such a catastrophe, Incas make as much noise as possible, with beating dogs, children, pans or drums, to get the Moon wake-up. During a solar eclipse, Int, Sun God and son of Viracocha, would be devoured by a celestial monster: a Puma. (Source: wikipedia)

For the Maya, the jaguar is a feline called “Black Sun”.

Oral Tradition and the eclipse in African stories

Some of the stories of oral tradition use the frequency and the duration of the eclipse as the main subject of the story. The phenomenon is more than a symbolic interpretation, but also a narrative tool for the storyteller. This African legend underneath explains the process of the phenomenon in its frequency and duration:

In the Zambezi area, man said that the Moon was trying desperately to be the most beautiful star in Heaven. She was however jealous of the sun which could be more beautiful with its golden feathers. So she decided to steal his golden feathers during the night. Unfortunately three little stars were witnessed the scene and in the early morning, went to warn the Sun. The latter, very upset, went to the moon and threw a handful of mud in her face, before he recovered its feathers. The moon hardly washed and scrubbed herself, she could not remove the marks of mud and remained stained forever. Ten years later, she took revenge by throwing mud on the face on the Sun, which took two hours to completely get vanished. Since then, the Moon continues to watch the sun with mud and manage to surprise him every ten years. Since then, African of this area are worried, thinking each time the golden orb is lost forever, but fortunately, each time it reappears. (Source: wikipedia)

What is an eclipse?

Author: Vaiana

What is an eclipse?

Each planet of the solar system takes its brightness from the sun. A celestial object is partially or totally eclipsed when it is plunged into the shadow of another one, just in part or in totality.

What is a solar Eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs on new moon. The moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, consequently it hides the Sun from an observer located on Earth, and casts its shadow on the surface of the earth.

By an extraordinary coincidence, the Moon which is 400 times smaller than the Sun is also 400 times closer. Thus, the apparent diameters of the two objects are almost identical to a terrestrial point of view.
The total solar eclipse happens when the moon is close enough to the earth and then totally hides the sun. This is the case of the upcoming total eclipse of July 2010.
The partial eclipse is when the Moon partly hides the sun out of the annular eclipses conditions.

An annular eclipse occurs when the apparent diameter of the Moon is smaller than the apparent diameter of the Sun, and therefore the moon does not hide the Sun completely. The visible part of the Sun takes the form of a bright ring shining around the dark disk of the moon.

Frequency of eclipses

As a minimum, four eclipses occur a year, with two lunar eclipses and two solar eclipses. The maximum number of eclipses is seven: two solar eclipses, and two lunar eclipses and for remaining, all combinations are possible.

The same eclipse repeats itself every 6585.3 days or 18 years and 10, 11 or 12 days according to the distribution of leap years. This period is called the Saros. With Saros, one can find the exact date of an eclipse that happened many centuries earlier, just as one can predict the following eclipse.

What makes an eclipse so exceptional is that it never occurs again by the next 370 years in the same place.

A Saros counts about 84 eclipses: 42 of moon eclipses and 42 solar eclipses. Most of them are partial eclipses. Moreover, as the moon is going far away from the earth of 3 cm every year away from the Earth each year, in hundreds of centuries, total eclipses will no longer exist.

(Source: CNES)


According to Teuira Henry, and her reference book Tahiti in ancient times, solar or lunar eclipses were an expression of the anger of the god Raa-mau-riri who would then swallow the star.

« Solar or lunar eclipses were said to happen when the anger of the god Raa-mau-riri (his holiness who holds anger) made him swallow the sun. During eclipses, priests and the terrified population would head to the marae where they prayed, made offerings and begged the god to give the star back. A comet was a god warning about war and disease. A meteor was a bad spirit who roamed around». Teuira Henry, Tahiti aux temps anciens, Paris, pub ; S.O. N°1, 1993, p.234). Read the rest of this entry »