You have the screens, the people, the VIPs, people with cameras. This is like a rocket launch."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The March 9 total solar eclipse (TSE) proved to be a blessing for the Sigi District located in Central Sulawesi Province, Indonesia, as it resulted in international publicity for the area.

A large number of tourists and Western scientists thronged the district to watch the spectacular natural phenomenon.

The province received some three thousand tourists, most of them arriving in Sigi, to observe the TSE as the district was considered one of the best viewing spots for the event.

Sigi has four observation points, respectively, located in Ngatabaru, Kotapulu, Pakuli, and Wayu Matantimali villages.

District Head of Sigi Irwan Lapata expressed optimism that the number of tourists visiting his region would increase significantly this year, thanks to the TSE.

During the TSE that occurred on March 9 morning, thousands of local villagers, domestic and foreign tourists, including those from Iran, Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla, and Western scientists as well as Dutch physicist and astronaut Andre Kuipers gathered in a football field in Kotapulu, Sigi, to witness the extraordinary phenomenon.

The National Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had installed two binoculars and a widescreen monitor to observe the TSE on the ground.

Located some 15 kilometers south of Central Sulawesis capital city of Palu, Kotapulu witnessed cheers and prayers as the crowd greeted the eclipse.

The entire period lasted for more than two hours, while the total eclipse occurred only for two minutes and two seconds, starting at 8:37 a.m. Central Indonesian Standard Time (Wita).

"The sun totally disappeared. How amazing that this sunny morning suddenly changed to dark," said Junaz Amir, a Sigi resident who witnessed the eclipse with his family, using special protective glasses.

European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers and his colleagues expressed joy for being able to witness the TSE as the Moon came in between the Sun and the Earth and cast the darkest part of its shadow (the umbra) on the Earth.

Kuipers arrived in Indonesia through the Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport, and after staying for three days in Bali, proceeded to Sigi.

He considered Kotapulu as a strategic and good place to view the TSE.

Kuipers brought along some special equipment to witness the TSE. He urged the people to view the natural phenomenon through special glasses.

He expressed his pleasure at having been able to view the TSE along with the Indonesian people as it gave him a memorable experience of being among the rural community in a unique environment.

Kuipers was approached by Vice President Jusuf Kalla and they had a chance to briefly discuss the TSE.

Kuipers said the TSE experience in Sigi reminded him of his own trip into space.

"You have the screens, the people, the VIPs, people with cameras. This is like a rocket launch. (It was the) Same experience," he said.

Andre Kuipers is the first Dutchman with two space missions to his name.

His second mission was the longest spaceflight in European history.

Andre Kuipers spent a grand total of 204 days in space: 11 days during his first flight, the DELTA Mission in 2004 and 193 days during the PromISSe mission in 2011/2012.

On board the International Space Station (ISS) as a flight engineer, he performed many diverse tasks, including scientific experiments, coupling of spaceships and vital maintenance and repair work.

Meanwhile, Judith Shanks, a retired editor from Washington DC, said it was her 12th eclipse so far and the period of thee total eclipse this time was one of the longest.

"I even traveled to China just to see a 15-second total eclipse," she was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying.

Earlier, Vice President Kalla had expressed the hope that some scientific discoveries would be made following the TSE that was visible in 12 of the countrys 34 provinces.

Kalla said he was highly impressed after witnessing the TSE. "For me, it was very beautiful. How the Sun, located some 150 million kilometers (km) from the Earth, and the Moon, 40 million km, could be visible on the right side! This is a sign of the greatness of Allah," Kalla, who was accompanied by Communication and Informatics Minister Rudy Antara, and BMKG Head Andi Eka Sakya, noted.

The foreign scientists used the TSE period to observe the behavior of various animals.

An American scientist identified by a local TV reporter as Mr Luis, for instance, said he observed and studied the behavior of fish in North Pakuli waters located in Gumbasa Sub-district in Sigi District during the TSE.

"I focused on observing animals," Luis told the reporter on March 10.

"But, the results of the observation could not be made public now because these need to be studied deeper," he added.

During the eclipse process, bats were out of caves, and roosters were crowing repeatedly, he said.

Luis, himself from the US, said he and some two thousand scientists from the US were in Indonesia to observe the TSE. They and other scientists planned to study and discuss the results of the observation.

"I am glad that I could make my observations without facing any obstacle. The people here are very friendly," the American scientist said.

Total solar eclipse is important to scientists as it gives them an opportunity to conduct experiments to solve mysteries like why the sun is so hot or the reason behind the unpredictable and often dangerous solar flames that emanate from its surface.

Central Sulawesi Governor Longki Djanggola expressed his gratefulness that the total solar eclipse had become a free tourism promotion event for the province.

In Central Sulawesi, four districts including Sigi, prepared various festivals that also aimed at promoting the uniqueness of their arts and cultural richness, such as a lesung (mortar) punching competition.

It will take another 350 years to see a similar total solar eclipse that will occur in Central Sulawesi again.

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2016