"It's a Life-Changing Day": A Solar Eclipse Darkens the Sky of Northern Mexico and Provokes Fascination Along Its Path - Expat Community

“It’s a Life-Changing Day”: A Solar Eclipse Darkens the Sky of Northern Mexico and Provokes Fascination Along Its Path

Apr 8, 2024 | Mexico, News & Articles | 0 comments

By ALEJANDRO I. LÓPEZ & KARINA SUÁREZ

As clouds threatened to completely cover the sky of Torreón (Coahuila), the countdown to the eclipse’s totality in Bosque Urbano, the city’s largest park and chosen venue by NASA to broadcast the phenomenon, was filled with pessimism. The excitement of thousands of enthusiasts who had been waiting for hours for the moment when the Moon would completely cover the Sun faded into a murmur. “If it continues like this, we won’t see anything,” complained a woman who had set up her telescope hours ago. “Come on, come on, good energy!” replied a man to encourage his children. Half an hour before totality, a series of applause and cheers revived the aspirations of scientists, amateur astronomers, and tourists: the Sun, halfway covered by the Moon, reappeared through a clear patch. It was the beginning of a roller coaster of emotions that seized the 50,000 people who, from all over the world, gathered in Torreón to witness how a total eclipse caused darkness in broad daylight, the most spectacular astronomical phenomenon of all and the first visible in the country in over three decades.

The echoes of the 1991 eclipse, the last one to darken Mexico and one of the longest in centuries, guided thousands to the cities located in the path of totality, a 200-kilometer-wide area where the Moon will completely cover the Sun. Four hours before the eclipse began, Thalía Olvera, a 37-year-old woman, was already occupying a spot in Bosque Urbano. The park, a space of green areas with an artificial lake, is home to the city’s Planetarium, which has been immersed in preparations for the great eclipse for at least a year. Organizers have set up ropes with glasses so that the hundreds of neighbors, tourists, and astronomy enthusiasts who have come here can safely view the phenomenon. “We were the first to arrive, my cousin and I arrived at 3 in the morning, we were at the entrance waiting. There was no one,” she explains while adjusting the tripod of a newly unpacked telescope she bought for the occasion. “The last eclipse was in ’91, I was almost five years old and he was barely two. We saw it in my backyard, my dad was there too… I remember the sky turned pink, it started to darken, and then the light returned. The next eclipse of this kind will be in 30 or 40 years. I’m going to be 38, and who knows if I’ll get to see a third eclipse,” Olvera says.

Before crossing the bridge that serves as one of the main entrances to the park, dozens of informal stalls offer T-shirts, keychains, and all kinds of commemorative items of the astronomical phenomenon. On one side lies the González García family, a young couple with two young children, waiting for the eclipse to begin sitting on the grass. They have traveled about 1,000 kilometers from Mexico City to witness the moment when the Moon completely blocks the sunlight, ushering in a night of just a few minutes.

Like Thalía, María Fernanda García (43 years old) also refers to the memory of the last eclipse to justify the reason for her trip. “The initiative was from everyone because we saw the one in 1991, so we were eagerly awaiting this one. I was about 11 years old, and I really loved it. There wasn’t the technology we have now, but I remember my dad bought some glasses, the lenses were in the newspaper, we saw the reflection in the water when it was total,” describes the woman who, like the rest of the family, wears commemorative shirts for this April 8th. “We also did it for them, because it’s the first one, and maybe the last one we’ll see,” Javier González (43 years old) says in a double gesture that begins by looking at his children and ends thoughtfully referring to himself and his wife.

The outreach efforts of the Torreón Planetarium, local media coverage for months, and NASA’s designation to broadcast the eclipse from the city served as a springboard to relaunch Torreón as a tourist destination and, in passing, change the perception that prevailed during the first two decades of the current century, when organized crime marked the daily life of the city. “Today is a historic day, very special for the people of La Laguna,” repeats through the park’s speakers. According to some tourists, the campaign, which includes distributing thousands of glasses to view the eclipse with the state government’s image printed on them, seems to be paying off. “When we heard [about Coahuila State], we thought of it as desert and insecurity, but as we toured the city, we realized it’s very friendly, a very beautiful state. Despite being dry and desert-like, it’s wonderful,” explains Javier González about the city.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for 33 years, since July 11, 1991,” explains Sergio Huanaco (70 years old), an astronomy professor who left Torreón over half a century ago to pursue his dream of studying space sciences. The expert proudly showcases his personal collection of meteorites, 380 remnants of extraterrestrial rocks accumulated over more than three decades, to the audience. Huanaco eagerly awaits the next curious visitors who approach the table where he exhibits his collection to explain their origin and, incidentally, give instructions for safely viewing the eclipse. From his perspective, he argues that even with the brevity of the eclipse, these are moments that inspire passion and change lives. “Today, many professions will be discovered. And from here, many young people who will be the scientists of the next generation will emerge,” he exclaims convinced. Just as it happened in 1970 and 1991, the generation under 30 in the country now has its own solar eclipse. Mexico will not witness a similar astronomical phenomenon until March 2052. Then the memories of April 2024, when day turned into night for four minutes, will once again bring together thousands of enthusiasts to witness the shadow of the Moon, and the children of today, some of whom have become scientists, will once again look up and marvel at the sky.

Mazatlán, between banda sinaloense and the eclipse on the seashore
Yubelca Mendoza and her partner have been waiting for this date for five months. The young Nicaraguan woman, based in Mexico City, raises her eyes to the sky with her special glasses around 10 in the morning on this Monday to follow minute by minute a spectacle that will not be repeated in the country for 28 years. She and hundreds of other people have come since the early hours of the morning to Ciudades Hermanas Park, adjacent to the tourist malecón and in the heart of the city, to witness the astronomical phenomenon up close. “I’ve always been interested in astronomy, last year we saw the annular eclipse in Mexico City, it has always been my passion, and having the opportunity to live in a country where it was going to be seen perfectly was something great. We are living something historic, I feel a lot of expectation, excitement,” said the 28-year-old woman, with a smile on her face.

Mazatlán’s park became an astronomical observatory this morning for tourists, foreigners, out-of-towners, sky specialists, and city dwellers. Amidst the bustle of visitors, the chords of the symphony orchestra playing at one end of the park accompany the start of the eclipse with songs from iconic movies like ET The Extra-Terrestrial and Star Wars. From the platform, the organizers advise attendees to be patient and never look directly at the sun, only with special glasses or viewers.

At around 11:09, the eclipse reached its peak in Mazatlán. The euphoria of hundreds of people turned into cheers and applause as unprecedented darkness enveloped the beaches of this point on the Mexican Pacific. For four minutes, all eyes turned to the disk of light in the sky. The orchestra stopped playing, and only the waves accompanied the expressions of jubilation and amazement.

Once the horizon began to lighten again, people erupted into applause, and a Band singing the Sinaloan song set the stage for a party that spread along the entire malecón. “I didn’t want to come, but when I saw it, I felt beautiful, so much energy. I didn’t see the one in 1991 because before they scared you a lot, they told you it would harm your eyes, but now that I lived it, it was incredible,” explained Sandra Reyes, 62, originally from Tijuana.

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