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Jo Stuart
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These stories first appeared Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2001
NASA graphic approximates what eclipse will be over San José.
can be
a really
for eyes
On Friday the emphasis is on protecting your sight
By the A.M.  Costa Rica staff

The eclipse is coming Friday, and a quick check of official sources on blindness is enough to make someone want to skip the whole thing.

The World Health Organization, NASA, the British government, the French government and well-meaning experts all agree: Look directly at the eclipse and your will toast your retinas. Thatís the sensitive part in the back of the eyeball that transmits visual information to your brain.

The technical term for what happens is "eclipse blindness," and it can be permanent. Experts said that sometimes the blindness appears later, and victims fail to connect their condition to the peek they took at the sun during an eclipse. For this reason, the World Health Organization said the amount of such blindness is under reported.

"After the partial solar eclipse of 1952, for example, 52 cases of blindness or severe visual impairment were registered worldwide. After the 1970 and 1980 total solar eclipses, 145 and 112 cases of serious visual impairment were reported respectively," said the WHO, which suggested that many more persons actually suffered damage. (http://www.who.int/inf-fs/en/fact228.html)

The two traditional ways to look at an eclipse safely are either with a filter or with a pinhole projector, the experts agree.

But not just any filter. A National Aeronautics and Space Administration expert, suggests No. 14 welder's glass. He is B. Ralph Chou, associate professor, School of Optometry, University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. http://umbra.nascom.nasa.gov/eclipse/

"Exposure of the retina to intense visible light causes damage to its light-sensitive rod and cone cells," said Chou in a paper prepared for NASA.  "The light triggers a series of complex chemical reactions within the cells which damages their ability to respond to a visual stimulus, and in extreme cases, can destroy them. The result is a loss of visual function which may be either temporary or permanent, depending on the severity of the damage."

There are no pain receptors in the back of the eye, so the victim does not feel the damage, which may not become obvious for some time, he said.

If welderís glass is not available, Chou suggests that viewers use a filter made of aluminized mylar manufactured specifically for solar observation. Some experienced eclipse chasers use two or more sheets of black-and-white film that has been fully exposed to light and developed to maximum density, he said. 

The aluminum or silver metal particles reflect much of the light. Exposed color film contains no metals, so it will not afford protection.

The WHO said that because the eye has a lens, the heat and destructive power of sunlight is multiplied about 10,000 times as it hits the retina. "When the cells . . .  are destroyed, people can no longer view

fine details, particularly when light levels are low," said the WHO. 

"While such blindness is not total, it represents a serious visual impairment making it impossible to read, sew, watch TV, recognize faces, drive a vehicle or do any task which requires recognition of fine details."

And just a few seconds will do it.

The safest way to view a solar eclipse is indirectly by using a pinhole projector, said the WHO. A pinhole camera can be made from a long box or tube. At the end that will face the sun, a pinhole is made in a piece of aluminum. The pinhole must be very small and as perfectly circular as possible in order to create the sharpest possible image, according to WHO.

The pinhole directs a focused image onto a piece of white paper on which the eclipse can be observed. The greater the distance between the pinhole and the white paper, the larger is the image of the eclipse.

What goes for eyes also is true for single lens reflex cameras. The sun can burn a hole quickly through the fabric shutter of even the most expensive camera. 

Modern technology has provided viewers with floppy disks, and some people use the dark medium inside such disks to view the eclipse. But since there is no certainty as to the quality of the medium, this is an unsafe practice, said the experts.

They also were not too keen on smoked glass, which can be made by holding a piece of glass over a candle. Again, the degree of density of the glass is uncertain. 

Pizza Hut locations in Costa Rica have announced that they will distribute eyeglass-like filters, which also are available on the third floor of the San José Municipal Building on Avenida 10 near Calle 40. But these throwaway glasses are such that a user should only watch the eclipse for five seconds and look away for 20 seconds, according to the Centro Nacional de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia, the National Science and Technical Center.

The centerís Web site is at: http://www.cientec.or.cr/astronomia/

NASAís eclipse homepage  is at: http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html

Technology may provide the safest viewing of all. Television and Web cameras will be recording the event between 3:13 and 5:18 p.m.  Friday. So there always is the possibility of kicking back in some air conditioned bar with a chilled chocolate milk in your hand watching the whole solar event transpire on television or on a convenient computer monitor.

Sometimes when there is a total eclipse, experts said, a viewer would be able to look safely at the totally obscured sun. But the eclipse Friday is annular, that is, the moon is not big enough to fully cover the sun. So viewing the sun still is very dangerous, they said.

Victims of terrorism to be remembered here this morning
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The U.S. Embassy in San José will mark the three-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with a ceremony this morning.

A spokesman said the ceremony would take place at exactly 7:46 a.m., which is the same time in Costa Rica that the first passenger jet flew into the south tower of New York City's World Trade Center. The time there is an hour later.

The honor guard of U.S. marines will display the colors and a moment of silence will be observed, the spokesman said.  National anthems of the United States and Costa Rica will be played. Linda Jewell, the chargé d'affaires of the embassy, will officiate and speak because the ambassador, John Danilovich, is out of town.

The anniversary will be marked in the United States, too. The national anthem will be played at the White House at  8:46  a.m. local time.

Commemorative events are also planned at the Pentagon, and "ground  zero" in New York City, and on the International Space Station which is in orbit. 

The events were planned after a Nov. 20 Taliban communique  reportedly asked the United States to "forget" about Sept. 11. President George Bush said the ceremonies will send a clear signal to the terrorists that the United States will never forget the events of Sept. 11. 

Nearly 4,000 victims from more than 80 countries perished in the attacks in New York City, Washington and a Pennsylvania field. 

Hijackers would leap upon slow-moving trucks
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

The action was like a scene out of the great train robbery, except today the trains are trucks.

Police said a gang of hijackers would await a loaded truck in an area where the road was in bad condition. As the truck would slow down to navigate the bad roads, a gang member would jump on the truck and quickly disconnect the line to the air brakes. 

When the trucker stopped to see what had happened, the gang would hold him up and steal the truck and its merchandise. And the trucks were loaded because they were en route from the depot of Golfito to the San José metropolitan area.

Investigators said they arrested three men as suspected members of the gang and searched living quarters in El Llano de Alajuelita, near San José, Sunday. Police said they found two .38-caliber weapons, ski masks, handcuffs, latex gloves, cellular telephones, canisters of disabling gas and various knives.

Agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization said that the men were suspected of being responsible for at least three hijackings in which goods worth 20 million colons (about $60,000) were taken each time.

Investigators said they got a break in the case when they encountered two men changing the license plate on a motor vehicle near Jacó. Later they found a trailer in a service station nearby. Then they searched the place where the men lived.

Golfito, because of favorable importation laws, is a major port for the arrival of heavy appliances and other high-value items into Costa Rica. 

The city is in extreme southwest Costa Rica not far from the border with Panamá. The cargo of the hijacked trucks was mostly household appliances, police said.

The arrested men were identified by last names and ages only: Chinchilla, 39, Mesin, 28, and Mora, 27. They were remanded to prison for three months of preventative detention, police said.

Investigators probe
death of U.S. citizen

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

An autopsy suggests that a U.S. citizen was murdered and was not the victim of a traffic accident as had first been thought.

The man was identified Sunday as Donald Leonard Durr, 70, who had lived in the Alajuela area for about a year. He vanished Tuesday the same time that an elderly man was hospitalized after being pulled from the Río Grande near Atenas. The man died in the hospital, but agents of the Judicial Investigating Organization were unable to make an identification until a woman filed what amounts to a missing persons report Sunday.

Originally police thought that the injuries sustained by the man before he went into the river were the result of a motor vehicle accident, but a preliminary autopsy showed that the head wounds were inconsistent with being stuck by a car. 

The wounds to the manís head were so severe that he was not easily recognized, and this further hampered the investigation, police said.

Two men die in surf
at different beaches

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

Two persons identified as U.S. citizens have died in the surf.

The first death was Saturday on the Guanacaste beach of Playa Grande. The victim there was identified as John August Surchand, 70.

In Playa Dominical Sunday a 28-year-old man identified as Jason Waine Michelle died about 2 p.m. Investigators said he was body surfing and was dragged under by a wave. 

Both cases were being handled by the Judicial Investigating Organization.

The U.S. Embassy was unable to provide details on either of the men Monday. Costa Rican investigators did not know the menís hometowns or whether they were tourists or residents here.

Dominical is on the Pacific coast south of Quepos. Playa Grande is on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Tiny particles in air
may be major danger

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

U.S. researchers report that particles of human-produced pollution may be reducing rainfall and threatening the earth's fresh water supplies.

A new study by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography suggests that tiny aerosol particles of soot and other pollutants ó formed by fossil fuel combustion and the burning of forests and other biomass ó are having a far greater effect on the planet's hydrological cycle than previously realized.

The study is based in part on new satellite data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and in part on the international Indian Ocean Experiment, an analysis of the Indian Ocean using satellites, aircraft, ships and surface stations.

When sunlight heats the ocean as part of the hydrological cycle, water escapes into the atmosphere and falls out as rain. Through the Indian Ocean study it was found that aerosol pollutants are cutting down the sunlight reaching the ocean and weakening the hydrological cycle.

According to the study, if pollutants lead to reduced rain and snowfall, it could directly affect the replenishment of the world's major stores of freshwater, including lakes, groundwater supplies, glaciers and high elevation snow pack.

The study not only warns about the role aerosols are playing on the regional and global water cycle, but also suggests that aerosol pollution increases the solar heating of the atmosphere, and reduces the solar heating of the surface of the planet. 

The researchers say these effects may be comparable to the global warming effects of greenhouse gases. 

Three hit by bullets
after dispute Sunday

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A 14-year-old boy suffered a bullet wound to the head and two young men also suffered bullet wounds about 11 p.m. Sunday night in Finca San Juan de Pavas. The shooting was the climax of a dispute, according to police.

Randall Vargas Ruíz, 20, suffered three bullet wounds in his back and Federico Barahona Madrigal, 22, suffered a wound in his left leg. The 14-year-old, Edwin Guevara Azofeita, was in grave condition in Hospital México, said police.

Small plane crashes
en route to airport

By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

A small plane dropped from the sky into la Uruca Monday morning, and the pilot, Roberto Gonzalez, blamed unexpected gusts of winds. A 20-year-old passenger suffered injuries. 

The light plane was destroyed. It had been on course to land at Bolaños Airport in Pavas.

Calif. bus company
faces alien indictment

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

WASHINGTON ó After a two-year joint probe, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation  "have disrupted the largest illegal alien smuggling ring involving a commercial bus company," Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday.

The Justice Department said that a joint investigation conducted by the two agencies has led to the indictment of the principal officers of Golden State Transportation, a Los Angeles-based regional bus company, and more than 30 company employees, and one of the largest asset forfeitures involving alien smuggling.

According to the Justice Department, the indictment alleges that Golden State Transportation generated a substantial amount of its annual revenue by transporting undocumented immigrants from the U.S.-Mexico border to cities in the nation's interior, primarily Los Angeles, Denver, and Yakima, Washington.

Venezuelan strike
draws Chavez retort

By the A.M. Costa Rica wire services

CARACAS ó A one-day national strike in Venezuela against the economic  measures of populist President Hugo Chavez has virtually paralyzed the  country. But the Venezuelan leader says he will not reverse his policies. 

Businesses, banks and many stores closed Monday here and other cities as part of a 12-hour national strike called by Venezuela's largest business association and opposition-led labor unions. 

The business group Fedecamaras organized the shutdown to protest a series of economic laws decreed by President Chavez last month. 

Fedecamaras  says the laws restrict free enterprise. Fedecamaras President Pedro Carmona described Monday's strike as a complete success, and called on President Chavez to modify the laws. 

But in a defiant speech, Chavez vowed not to reverse his policies, saying they are aimed at redressing social wrongs. He warned of civil war if  what he called the "corrupt elites" try to go against the will of the Venezuelan people. 

President Chavez, a leftist populist, was elected three years ago with overwhelming support, but has seen his popularity slide dramatically in recent months. 

Four teens blamed for virus

Special to A.M. Costa Rica

TEL AVIV ó Four Israeli teens have been identified by police as the authors of the W32.Goner.A@mm computer virus that has been making the rounds in Costa Rica. The youths ages range from 15 to 16. 

The virus comes as an attachment in the guise of a screensaver, but when the attachment is opened, the virus disables antivirus software and causes other havoc.

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