14 July 2010
Solar Eclipse at Manuae in 1965
The solar eclipse of 11 July 2010 brought hundreds of tourists to Mangaia and created huge local interest but it is not the first total eclipse in recent history to be visible from the Cook Islands as the following post recalls.
On May 31, 1965, the Cook Islands Administration issued a 6d stamp to commemorate the solar eclipse. The most favoured position for observing this phenomenon was Manuae Island, an atoll comprising two islets, located near Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.
New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, USA, Germany, Japan and Russia all sent teams of scientists. Unfortunately, on the day cloud obscured the sun and scientific observations from the island itself were consequently restricted.
The eclipse attracted the largest gathering of solar astronomers ever to observe an eclipse from a single site. Manuae, their base, is an atoll of 1524 acres. At the time, the atoll’s normal population was a score of copra labourers. On May 30 1965, there were also 85 scientists and their assistants. A post office set up on Manuae during the scientists’ visit issued the special 6d stamp depicting a coconut tree and the partly eclipsed sun.
On the day of the eclipse, the skies over Manuae were clear at first, but just before totality occurred a large cloud appeared and spoiled the scientists' efforts. But the cloud cover did not mar the work of the American scientists based on Rarotonga, who fired 5 Nike-Tomahawk rockets to an altitude of 300,000 feet – 175 miles into an area close to the zone of eclipse totality. Their object was to measure low energy x-rays from the sun. The rockets were fired from a base built on the property of Captain Andy Thomson, well-known Cook Islands skipper.
The rockets shot through Rarotonga’s skies with the velocity of anti-aircraft shells. White vapour trails marked their ascent, and a rumbling sound like distant thunder marked the first breaking of the sound barrier. The blast-off of the rockets scared nearby livestock. Pigs jumped out of their pens and ran wild. As the blasts echoed round the hills dogs hurtled in all directions, too over-awed to bark. When the eclipse brought premature night, Rarotongan chickens went to roost. Even the noisy mynah birds were silent. (Sourced from an article written by WH Percival for PIM, July 1965)
The late Stuart Kingan described the Manuae eclipse in his book ‘Making Waves’.
The library has a copy of ‘Making Waves’ in the reference section.
The Manuae stamp is in our stamp collection.
History of Manuae
At the beginning of the 1900s, Manuae was a penal settlement for the Cook Islands. The convicts who were sent there worked on a copra plantation. The representative of the government on the island was the jailer. By 1966 Manuae had a population of 15 people; by 1971 there were 2. Today it is uninhabited.
Aitutaki tradition gives the honour of discovery of this atoll to their ancestor Ruatapu, an intrepid Polynesian explorer. During his second voyage in 1773, Captain Cook sighted the atoll; on his third voyage in April 1777, he went to the atoll but did not land. The island appeared to be under the rule of a chief from Atiu. The first name Cook gave the island was Sandwich, but later crossed that name out to give it to the Hawaiian islands. He renamed the island Harvey isle in honour of a Lord of the Admiralty.
In 1823, Rev John Williams visited the island and found some sixty people to be living there. Some six or seven years later there were only 8 adults and some children living there. Missionaries took them to Aitutaki.