Originally created 11/25/03

Scientists watch first total solar eclipse recorded in a century



WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Scientists in Antarctica bundled up Monday against sub-freezing temperatures to watch the first total solar eclipse recorded on the icy continent in a century.

Spectators gathered outside in 19-degree weather as the sun disappeared over the U.S.-run McMurdo Station and New Zealand's Scott Base, which spend much of the year in the total darkness of the Antarctic winter.

"The surface that's being eclipsed is absolutely black compared to the brightness of the sun," Liz Sutter told The Associated Press in a telephone interview as she watched the eclipse through medical x-ray glasses to protect her eyes.

The moon began shading the face of the sun at 11:08 a.m. Monday (7:08 p.m. EST Sunday), New Zealander Natalie Cadenhead told AP. She said staff at Scott Base used welding masks to shield camera lenses to capture the eclipse on film.

Lou Anthony, a staffer at the Scott Base, said the light there "went from bright sunlight to dusky, evening light" at the peak of the eclipse.

He said a helicopter pilot described the change as "like flying into milky light."

Anthony said the last time a total eclipse was observed in Antarctica was on Sept. 21, 1903, by British explorer Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, on Ross Island off the continent's northern coast.

The total eclipse was visible along an arc up to 440 miles wide and 3,200 miles long that stretched between New Zealand and South Africa, said astronomer Brian Carter from New Zealand's Carter Observatory.

"Quite a lot of Antarctica got a total eclipse ... because the sun was so low" in the sky, Carter said.

Partial eclipses also occurred over parts of Australia, southern New Zealand and South America.

The locals in Antarctica took the event in stride.

"The fur seals don't mind what's happening around them," Cadenhead said. "They just snooze on the ice," she said.