Think of star-gazing and astronomy as a particularly safe hobby? Think again. It turns out that while looking at the cosmos, hundreds of thousands of light-years away, local astronomers may be too preoccupied to realize the threats much closer to home.
Early Thursday, Mar. 19, officials in Svalbard, Norway's region of the Arctic, announced that a Czech tourist in town for this week's total eclipse of the sun was mauled by a polar bear and sustained serious injuries. One of a group of six campers, the Czech tourist suffered defensive injuries to his arm and face local officials say. And as a precaution local animal control has put the bear down, police inspector Sidsel Svarstad says.
While the attack is rather rare, with only five fatal polar bear attacks occurring in Svalbard in the last forty years, local officials warn that tourists beware of their wild neighbors. Nearly 3,000 polar bears are reported to live in the region, dwarfing the 2,500 inhabitants, but with the onset of the coming solar eclipse tonight many tourists have descended onto the small town and unknowingly have put themselves at risk.
Tonight's solar eclipse is one that will only be fully visible on Earth from Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic, which is why more than 1,500 tourists from around the world have come for a glimpse. But while the sky may fall dark for a short while, lasting only three minutes from when it begins at 1011 GMT Friday morning, the dangers of polar bear attacks will last long before and long after the sun makes its shift.
As a precaution local authorities have warned eclipse-chasers of the dangers and have required people leaving Svalbard's inhabited areas to carry a rifle or be accompanied by an armed local guide.