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July’s Solar Eclipse Marks Longest for Next 140 Years

June 7, 1991

HOUSTON (AP) _ Scientists are eagerly awaiting next month’s total solar eclipse, which will darken a 160-mile-wide strip from Hawaii across the Pacific Ocean to Baja California, and across Mexico and Central America to Brazil.

″Originally, we thought it would be the longest eclipse of the century. But it’s much more significant than that,″ said Paul Maley of the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society in Houston.

″It will be visible for about three hours, in various stages, along that stretch that runs primarily through Mexico,″ Maley said. ″The eclipse paths are very long - 6,000 miles in length - but the width of the path is very narrow - about 160 miles wide.″

On July 11, an estimated 40 million people are expected to witness the moon pass in front of the sun, casting the area in total darkness, Maley said. And millions more, like those in Texas and southern California, will be able to see a partial eclipse.

The last total eclipse that passed through Texas was in 1900 and the next won’t be until 2024, but it won’t be as long as this eclipse. The last partial eclipse in Texas occurred in May 1984 when there was an annular eclipse - when the moon passes before the sun, leaving only a circle of sunlight visible around the moon.

The last total eclipse visible in Canada and the northwestern United States was in February 1979, and the last such occurrence on the East Coast and in Mexico was in March 1970, Maley said.

″This will be really exciting because literally thousands of people will be traveling into Mexico to see this eclipse,″ Maley said. ″More people will be seeing this than any other eclipse in history.″

Tourist reservations for that period in Hawaii, Mexico’s Baja California peninsula and Mexico City have long since been booked and overbooked, Maley said.

But the Houston astronomical group is organizing two trips for aficionados to Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, Mexico, where the sun will completely disappear from view at midday for up to seven full minutes.

Maley and Space Shuttle astronauts Jeff Hoffman and Claude Nicollier will lead about 140 people on a bus caravan to Puerto Vallarta. Rice University professor Patricia Reiff will lead a second group of 150 to Mazatlan to observe the eclipse from a beach hotel.

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