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Baja California Sur Prepares for Eclipse Watchers

June 10, 1991

LA PAZ, Mexico (AP) _ A hodgepodge of astronomers, tourists and souvenir hawkers will soon be mingling science, business and pleasure in Baja California Sur, the best place to watch next month’s total eclipse of the sun.

″The (July 11) eclipse will be an economic boom,″ said Ricardo Garcia Castro, who sells eclipse T-shirts and other souvenirs at the Boutique Internacional in La Paz, the state capital.

More than 50,000 visitors are expected, although the southern half of the Baja California peninsula has facilities for just 35,000, said Ricardo Garcia Soto, the state’s tourism director.

Hotels have been booked years in advance. To handle the surplus, the state government has established campgrounds and arranged for accommodations in schools, auditoriums, on boats and in private homes.

Garcia expects the week of the eclipse to bring in $37 million, equal to an entire year of normal tourism.

Almost 800 scientists from all over the world will gather at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur to conduct experiments during what will be the longest eclipse until 2123.

An eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, swallowing the light except for a glow on its horizon. The sun is 400 times the moon’s size, but the moon appears to cover it because it is closer to Earth.

The eclipse will be total on a path 160 miles wide that includes some of the globe’s most populous regions. In Baja California Sur, it will last nearly seven minutes, the maximum for a total solar eclipse.

It will begin in Hawaii, reach Baja California Sur at 12:46 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, cross the Gulf of California, black out Mexico City at 1:24 p.m. and leave Mexico at the southern state of Chiapas at 1:43 p.m., continue across Central and South America and leave the continent near Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Spectators from British Colombia to Buenos Aires will experience at least a partial eclipse, but viewing conditions may vary with the weather.

The tip of the Baja peninsula is considered the best vantage point because it has an average of 300 cloudless days a year. In most of Mexico, the eclipse will occur during the rainy season.

Manuel Oseguera Chazaro, general coordinator of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, put the probability of rain at less than 9 percent.

State officials have spent two years and more than $230,000 preparing for the eclipse, organizing scientific activity, communications and transportation, security, education, public safety and commercialization.

Only 300,000 people live in the isolated state, which has large fishing, agricultural and salt-mining industries. Tourists are attracted to the rugged beaches of La Paz and Los Cabos.

More than 1,000 people are expected at an astronomy symposium in La Paz on July 7-14.

Scientiests from the United States, Soviet Union, India, Japan, China and Europe will be based at the Autonomous University.

At least 50 experiments will be conducted during the eclipse, including a study of the composition of the corona. Astronomers will measure the diameters of the moon and sun, and the sun’s seismic activity.

Armando Trasvina Taylor, operative director of the Coordinating Committee for the Observation of the Total Solar Eclipse, said an effort has been made to educate the public about the dangers associated with solar eclipses.

Old superstitions also are being explained away. The belief persists in Mexico, for example, that pregnant women should not look at an eclipse because their babies will be born with harelips.

Flyers, comics and even rap songs are being used to teach the public how to view an eclipse properly, Trasvina said.

Specially treated glasses are needed to watch the eclipse safely because the sun’s infrared and ultraviolet rays can burn the retina, causing blindness.

″We don’t want any negative effects,″ Trasvina said, so the Mexican government is supervising production of about 50 million pairs of viewing glasses. They are to be given away in schools and sold to the public.