The sky darkens almost completely, although it is full day and a couple of hours ago it was clear and without a cloud. The temperature drops between five and 10 degrees, on an already cold afternoon. Silence silences the fauna of northern Chile, in the desert. Some three hundred neighbors of the small hamlet Punta Colorada, in the region of Coquimbo, with screams and applause receive the eclipse of the sun number 15 that occurs in the country since independence in 1810. In the last few hours in the region alone, some 220,000 tourists arrived to be part of this astronomical festival, in a country specially motivated by this science. It was at 4.39pm on Tuesday when the shadow of the moon was cast on Earth, in an impressive and emotional spectacle. The darkness lasted for two minutes and 35 seconds. The eclipse was also seen in Argentina, especially in the Andean provinces, but with less intensity due to the proximity of the sunset.
The phenomenon breaks with the anonymity of small towns such as Punta Colorada, in the municipality of La Higuera, which rarely appears on maps, according to Jessica Canihuante, one of its 400 inhabitants. Ancient neighbors, such as Flora Robledo, declare themselves happy about the eclipse - "in my 66 years I have never seen one," he says in his small business - and with the arrival of national authorities who scarcely stop in this simple mining and livestock village. Nor does the economic growth of the last decades of Which Chile is vain seem to have arrived.
President Sebastián Piñera, infected by eclipse fever, moved early to the area with two of his ministers, Education and Sciences, and then visited Punta Colorada with his wife in an activity that contemplated the talk of astronomer Luis Chavarría. With musical numbers of ranchera and the performance of the string ensemble of the school of Caleta los Hornos, it will surely be the only major event of this town in many years.
"Chile is today the capital of the world in terms of astronomy. We are the eyes and senses of humanity so that we can look, observe and study the stars and the universe," the representative said.
Complete Chile, from north to south, was paralyzed with the phenomenon, which was followed on different platforms by its citizens. In Santiago, where it was not seen in its entirety, the Alameda was flooded with people with their lenses looking at the west. Complete families traveled hundreds of kilometers from all over the country to appreciate it from the municipality of La Higuera, one of the privileged places to observe it. In Punta Colorada, about 40 motorhome,camper and mobile homes were installed in a clear location. Its owners came from Arica to Punta Arenas, both ends of the country.
A national holiday
The entire eclipse of the sun was observed in a 150-kilometer strip of Chilean territory, encompassing two regions, Atacama and Coquimbo. Coming from the north and south, people moved from the weekend to different towns and cities in the area to admire it. Kilometer rows of cars to enter the small towns. In the touristic La Serena, one of the urban epicentres, the famous astronomer José Maza broke a record with a large scientific talk attended by at least 15,000 people in the previous eclipse. On the bank of the Pan-American Highway, makeshift tents erected to observe the darkened sky in the middle of the afternoon. At the entrance of Incahuasi, in the middle of the desert, hundreds of tents and a stage waiting for the eclipse.
Northern Chile is declared the best place on Earth for astronomy. Currently, 50% of the optical capacity installed to observe the sky is in the South American country and in 10 years, it will reach 70%. Large European, American, Japanese or Taiwanese centers are located in this area of the planet. It is one of the peculiarities of the eclipse: the band of everything passed through three professional observatories: Cerro Tololo, Gemini Sur and La Silla, where great astronomers of the world came to observe it. In Tololo, for example, the team of the Spanish doctor Miquel Serra Ricart, astronomer of the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands, administrator of the Teide Observatory, was assembled.
"Total eclipses of sunshine are a fantastic opportunity to do experiments on the outermost layer of our star, the crown," explains Dr. Serra. "Our group devoted itself to studying the response of the atmosphere, especially the ionosphere, during the passage of the shadow."
It's been 400 years since there was a total eclipse of the sun in this region of the country. The last one in Chilean territory was in 2010, on Easter Island, where about five thousand people arrived. But in the last decade, observation of the universe has become popular in the South American country: astronomers are real stars - they ask for autographs and selfies - their books are record sales and fill audiences. Unlike the past, there is a whole generation of Chilean infants who dream of studying this science.
In Punta Colorada, the neighbors were happy. Some took advantage of the massive arrival of visitors to undertake small businesses, such as horseback riding or the sale of olive oil, which occurs in the same village. But it was the children who were especially excited. Under the direction of the school's principal, Tomás Rodríguez, his 27 elementary school students prepared numbers of typical dances and poetry. "On the eclipse, many have expressed an interest in astronomy. It would be a dream if someone would get to work at the nearby observatories," says Rodríguez, one of the two teachers who has the hidden school of the north Chilean boy.