A total solar eclipse will darken some of Earth's skies on Friday, but geography, weather, the economy and even the Olympics are combining to make it a hard and expensive for people to see it.
The total blotting out of the sun, which occurs when the moon's dark inner shadow falls on parts of the Earth, can only be seen in mostly remote places: the northeastern edge of Canada, the tip of Greenland, parts of Russia, China and Mongolia, including the famed Gobi desert.
For those who can't be there, it will be shown live on the Internet.
Some of the areas where the eclipse will last the longest — including parts of the Arctic — have a 75 percent chance of bad weather that will make it tough to see. This eclipse at its peak will last for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.
Yet eclipse chasers can't wait for the sky to darken, animals to howl and people to stare in awe.
"It's so rare and unusual, it's unfortunate to pass up any chance," said NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, who has been chasing eclipses since 1970 and has his own Mr. Eclipse Web site and a NASA solar eclipse Web site.
Espenak will be in northern China to watch the eclipse with a tour group.
The Olympics, which start a week later in Beijing, are making it expensive and difficult to get plane tickets and hotel rooms, Espenak said.
The world's economy and fuel prices are making it even tougher, so fewer people are going, said Richard Fienberg, editor emeritus of Sky and Telescope magazine and spokesman for the American Astronomical Society.
Past eclipse tours cost around $1,000 to $2,000, but many of the China tours are $3,000 to $6,000, plus airfare. To join Fienberg on a Russian icebreaker that includes a North Pole stop costs about $23,000.
There is a a cut-rate closer to home option.
"The northeastern part of Maine will see a little bit of this eclipse right at sunrise," Espenak said.
The eclipse can also be seen remotely. Museums such as the Exploratorium in San Francisco, will have eclipse events. NASA, the Exploratorium and others will broadcast the eclipse live on the Internet. It reaches its peak at 7:09 a.m. EDT.
Next year's total solar eclipse — July 22, 2009 — will be more southerly and last the longest of the 21st Century: 6 minutes, 39 seconds.
But it will be during monsoon season and can be seen, only if the weather cooperates, in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, China and the Pacific Ocean.