The longest total solar eclipse in the next 141 years will dramatically darken the skies July 11 over a narrow, 9,300-mile-long swath of the Earth. Eagerly anticipated because of the unusual duration of totality _ up to six minutes, 53 seconds near Mexico's Baja California peninsula _ the eclipse already has generated a frenzy of advance raves and booked-solid accommodations in prime viewing areas.
"It's one of the most awe-inspiring events you'll ever see," said Baltimore astronomer Glenn Schneider, an admitted "eclipsoholic" who has traveled worldwide to view 14 total solar eclipses in the past two decades.
But the path of totality _ the shadow of the moon as it streaks across the Earth _ will cover less than 1 percent of the surface, measuring only 139 miles wide as the eclipse begins in the Pacific Ocean west of Hawaii just after sunrise on July 11.
Some of the best viewing is expected on the island of Hawaii. To the delight of astronomers, the total eclipse will occur _ at 7:30 a.m. Hawaiian time, lasting 4 minutes, 10 seconds _ over the world's largest array of observatories, atop the extinct Mauna Kea volcano.
For three hours, 26 minutes, the shadow will travel southeast, across the Pacific to the Gulf of California, reaching Baja and an estimated 100,000 eclipse-watchers about noon. It then continues down over Central America, Colombia and Brazil.