TERNATE, INDONESIA – A solar eclipse began sweeping across the vast Indonesian archipelago on Wednesday, with hordes of skygazers set to watch the spectacle, which will be marked by parties, prayers and tribal rituals.
The moon began to move between the Earth and sun at 6:19 a.m. (2319 GMT Tuesday), the official Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics Agency said.
A rare total solar eclipse will be visible in a broad arc across the country about an hour later.
All direct sunlight will be blocked for a short time from the western island of Sumatra, to the spice-fringed Maluku Islands thousands of miles to the east, before the total eclipse sweeps out across the Pacific Ocean.
From a festival featuring live bands, to fun runs and traditional dances, events are being organised across the country for an estimated 10,000 foreign visitors and 100,000 domestic tourists who will be witnessing the phenomenon.
Hotels in the best viewing spots filled up weeks ago — in the city of Ternate, in the Maluku Islands, officials have had to find extra space for tourists on boats.
“It’s an extraordinary spectacle that only takes place about once a year in one part of the world,” said Arnaud Fischer, a 33-year-old French tourist, who has witnessed several eclipses and was set to watch Wednesday’s in Ternate.
I Gde Pitana, the government’s head of foreign tourism, described the phenomenon as “a tourism attraction created by God.
However, there are concerns that clouds could obscure the view in some places, as it is currently the wet season in Indonesia.
It will be a deeply spiritual experience for many in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, with the faithful being urged by Islamic authorities to perform special eclipse prayers.
“Our Prophet Muhammad said the prayer signifies the greatness of Allah, who created this wonderful phenomenon,” said Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the country’s top Islamic clerical body.
Some of Indonesia’s tribes people are fearful of the phenomenon, however. Members of the Dayak tribe in one part of Borneo island will perform a ritual to ensure that the sun, which they view as the source of life, does not disappear entirely.
The total eclipse will sweep across 12 out of 34 provinces in Indonesia, which stretches about 3,000 miles (5,000 km) from east to west, before heading across the Pacific Ocean.
It will be visible for between just one and a half to three minutes in most places.
Partial eclipses will be visible in northern Australia and parts of Southeast Asia.
Before hitting Sumatra, the eclipse sweeps across Sulawesi and Borneo, then moves over the Malukus and heads out into the ocean.
One of the most popular events for foreign tourists will be a festival close to Palu, in Sulawesi.
Among those coming to Indonesia is Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who recently hit the headlines after a $40,000 toilet custom-built for her visit to Cambodia went unused.
She will be watching the spectacle in Ternate, although officials insist that no luxury commode has been built for her on this occasion.
The last total solar eclipse occurred on March 20, 2015, only visible from the Faroe Islands and Norway’s Arctic Svalbard archipelago.
Total eclipses occur when the moon moves between the Earth and the Sun, and the three bodies align precisely.
As seen from Earth, the moon is just broad enough to cover the solar face, creating a breath-taking silver halo in an indigo sky.