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Those who say eclipses herald history-shaping events will find support for their superstition when, on Friday, the Sun will be briefly plunged into darkness on the day of Pope John Paul II's funeral.
Astronomers, though, say the eclipse, while of a rare and intriguing type, was calculated long ago and is simply part of a ballet in celestial physics between the Sun, Earth and Moon.
It will be visible on Friday along an arc ranging from the southwestern Pacific to South America, at a time it will already be night in Rome.
The event will be a rare type called a "hybrid eclipse," expert Fred Espenak says on his website (sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov...).
"On September 14, 1978, a UFO as big as an ocean liner was witnessed by many thousands of people (including police) traveling all the way from the southern end of Sicily up through the entire length of the Italian peninsula to the northern frontier at the French border. The UFO then returned to hover over Rome during the nights of Sept. 15 and 16. Is it no more than an odd coincidence that this was just a fortnight before Pope John Paul I was found dead under suspicious circumstances, apparently poisoned in the manner of the Borgias while working on a speech he intended to deliver the next day? The text of the speech he had been working on was never made public.
"For the first time in the history of the Papacy, an autopsy was demanded by the Pope's family (his brother and sister), as well as by some of the best doctors in Italy. This demand was refused. "Although the Pope supposedly died of a heart attack, he had no previous history of heart trouble. Shortly before he died, his doctor examined him and declared him to be in excellent health. Cardinal Gantin, who was one of the last people to see him alive, said: 'Neither his face nor his gestures betrayed any sign of fatigue or weakness'.
"According to the Vatican, the first person to find him dead was Father Magee, who described his face as peacefully illuminated with his famous smile. However, this detail is in direct contradiction with the official diagnosis of infarctus of the myocardium.