Stargazers, scientists share fascination for solar eclipse
Arya Dipa and N. Adri
The Jakarta Post
Having been in love with astronomy since her childhood, Avivah Yamani didn't need to think twice to put a new item on her wish list this year: witnessing the total solar eclipse on her country's soil.
The 36-year-old magazine editor and five of her friends will depart early next month from their hometown of Bandung, West Java, for Maba, a small town in East Halmahera regency, North Maluku, from where they will closely observe the rare natural phenomenon.
'I have been saving money since last year for the trip,' said Avivah, who is also a member of Bandung-based Langit Selatan (Southern Sky), a community for local astronomy enthusiasts.
Unlike a partial solar eclipse, a total one can usually only be seen from a particular spot on Earth once every few decades.
It occurs when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth and casts the darkest part of its shadow, or the umbra, over the Earth.
Astronomers are predicting that this year's solar eclipse will fall on March 9, with Indonesia the only country in the world from which the phenomenon will be visible.
Dozens of cities in 12 Indonesian provinces, including those in West Sumatra, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, Bangka Belitung, East Kalimantan and North Maluku, meanwhile, have been identified as areas that will experience the short-lived yet breathtaking phenomenon.
The shortest total eclipse, which will last for one minute and 54 seconds, will be visible on South Pagai island, West Sumatra, while the longest, which will last for three minutes and 17 seconds, will occur in Maba.
'That's why we picked Maba as our sightseeing destination,' Avivah said.
The rare phenomenon has also drawn interest from local and international scientists.
The Central Sulawesi provincial administration, for example, has confirmed that hundreds of foreign scientists, many of them from the US, will gather in the provincial capital of Palu in early March to observe the solar eclipse.
Reaserchers in the Bosscha Observatory in Lembang, West Bandung regency, meanwhile are planning to observe the solar eclipse to help them answer the mystery of the pendulum motion anomalies raised by French economist Maurice Allais during a total solar eclipse on June 30, 1954.
The swing of a hanging pendulum shifts 15 degrees per hour when it is placed at the north or south pole, so in a day, or 24 hours, the pendulum will shift 360 degrees.
Allais, who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics 1988, however, noted a change in the swing of the pendulum during an eclipse.
Based on Allais' observation, the irregularity of the pendulum swing is not constant during a solar eclipse. Allais found the same condition during the total eclipse of the sun on Oct. 2, 1959. The anomaly was then called the Allais Effect.
'Today, scientists don't know what causes the anomaly,' observatory head Mahasena Putra said.
For the purpose, the observatory has set up a pendulum weighing 12 kilograms with cross-motion and various other sensors to record the change or shift during the total solar eclipse.
The solar eclipse has also provided local tourist businesses with opportunities to offer attractive holiday packages.
In East Kalimantan city of Balikpapan, a number of agents are offering tour packages in which tourists can visit sightseeing spots to observe the eclipse and enjoy various festivals organized by local residents to welcome the phenomenon.
Trans Borneo Adventure director Joko Purwanto said his company had been promoting such tour packages since last year. As of last month, he added, more than 60 foreign tourists from European and Asian countries had booked their seats for the eclipse tour in the province.
'Some of them will visit Tanah Grogot, as the solar eclipse in the city is predicted to last longer than those in other regions,' he said.
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