LOS ANGELES — A total eclipse of the sun occurs Sunday, but don't be so quick to take out your special viewing glasses.
Unlike recent solar eclipses, this year's complete blotting out of the sun will be visible only in a narrow slice of the Southern Hemisphere.
The spectacle begins at sunrise some 1,200 miles northeast of New Zealand. The moon's shadow will sweep across the South Pacific, darkening skies over the Cook Islands, Easter Island and parts of southern Chile and Argentina.
The time of greatest eclipse will occur over open water, lasting 5 minutes and 20 seconds.
Williams College astronomer Jay Pasachoff recently traveled to remote Easter Island with a small group of students to observe what would be his 51st eclipse. They planned to set up telescopes to image the sun's glowing corona – the usually invisible outer atmosphere of the sun – which appears as a pearly white crown during an eclipse.
"I am sad that so few people will be able to view this year's eclipse since it doesn't pass over major cities," Pasachoff said in an e-mail.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth. The moon blocks the light from the sun and casts a shadow on Earth.
Last year's total solar eclipse – the longest one of the 21st century – fell over a wide swath of Asia, but clouds and drizzle in some places prevented some revelers from getting the full experience.
"The key thing is to have good weather," Pasachoff said.
Some eclipse chasers who can't view the exotic sun show at home joined tours. Fifty people left on the Fourth of July for a nine-day trip to the South Pacific. The tour was led by the Planetary Society, a space advocacy group.
Tourists island-hopped around Tahiti, the French Polynesian island of Moorea and will head to the Anaa atoll, where they will wake up early to view the eclipse expected to last three minutes. The price? $4,995 a person, not including airfare.
Scientists recommend that people wear special viewing glasses during a total solar eclipse and avoid looking directly with the naked eye.
The next total solar eclipse will occur in November 2012 and will be visible from northern Australia and the South Pacific.
NASA eclipse page: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/solar.html