'Blazing ring' eclipse races across Africa, Asia

Jan 15, 2010
A solar eclipse viewed from Colombo. A solar eclipse that reduced the sun to a blazing ring surrounding a sombre disk plunged parts of Africa and Asia into an eerie semi-darkness.

A solar eclipse that reduced the sun to a blazing ring surrounding a sombre disk plunged millions of people in Africa and Asia into an eerie semi-darkness on Friday.

The spectacle, visible in a roughly 300-kilometre (185-mile) band running 12,900 kilometres (8,062 miles) across the globe, set a record for the longest annular eclipse that will remain unbeaten for more than a thousand years.

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun but does not completely obscure it, thus leaving a ring -- an annulus -- of sunlight flaring around the lunar disk.

The Moon's shadow first struck the southwestern tip of Chad and western Central African Republic at 0514 GMT and then reached Uganda, Kenya, and Somalia before racing across India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and China.

Local media in the affected areas issued warnings about the dangers of looking directly at the sun, but fascinated onlookers thronged streets to witness the celestial phenomenon.

"It's getting interesting. Birds are singing. It's actually getting cold here," said John Saitega, a 34-year-old father of six in Olte Tefi, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Nairobi.

In India, where the eclipse was visible from the southern-most tip, astronomers and curious spectators watched in awe, using sunglasses and even ultra-dark welding masks as day turned into darkness.

There were cheers and applause in the city of Bangalore when clouds cleared just in time to show the Moon glide into position to cover about 85 percent of the Sun.

Veteran eclipse chaser Daniel Fischer from German astronomy magazine Interstellarum picked a vantage spot on a cliff in Varkala, 62 kilometres (38 miles) north of the city of Thiruvananthapuram in the Indian state of Kerala.

"I'm thrilled. My first eclipse was Indonesia in 1983," said Fischer, who has witnessed 23 eclipses in total.

The Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched three small rockets on Thursday and another five on Friday to study the effects of the event on the atmosphere.

"We will compare the data obtained on normal days with data during and immediately after the eclipse to study the difference," project director P. Ratnakar Rao told AFP from Thiruvananthapuram.

The eclipse, which was followed live on cable television in India and China, temporarily put a halt to the world's biggest religious gathering in northern India.

Temples in Haridwar, site of the Kumbh Mela which sees millions of Hindus bathe in the holy river Ganges, were closed for the duration of the eclipse because the phenomenon is considered inauspicious, an organiser told AFP.

Residents in the Ugandan capital Kampala got a good view, although some were afraid of the intensity of the light, with many sharing dark glasses to gaze up at the sky.

"Can't it burn someone? You can't even look direct because I'm fearing for my eyes. I'm fearing it can burn me," said Angela Namukwaya, a shopkeeper in a Kampala suburb.

The maximum duration of "annularity" -- the time the moon is in front of the sun --- was 11 minutes, eight seconds at 0706 GMT, making it "the longest annular eclipse of the 3rd Millennium," according to NASA.

Only on December 23, 3043 will this record be beaten.

In China's capital, Beijing, a partial eclipse made a crescent of the setting orange sun before the lunar shadow expired over the Shandong peninsula at 0859 GMT.

"It's cool. The weather conditions are pretty good. It's really rather magnificent," said one male Beijing high school student, one of about 40 observing the eclipse from Coal Hill, overlooking the Forbidden City.

Explore further: NASA's reliance on outsourcing launches causes a dilemma for the space agency

Related Stories

Cloud obscures annular eclipse

Oct 03, 2005

Clouds obscured an annular eclipse for most sky-gazers across Europe and Asia Monday as the moon passed in front of the sun.

Get Ready For Total Lunar Eclipse Wednesday Night

Feb 19, 2008

In the late night hours of Feb. 20, 2008, a total lunar eclipse will dazzle the night sky. And this lunar eclipse may be worth staying up for, because it will be the last one until December 2010.

See Total Solar Eclipse Tomorrow in a Different Light

Mar 28, 2006

A major astronomical event occurs Wednesday -- a total solar eclipse in which the moon's shadow blocks Earth-bound views of the sun from Brazil to Mongolia. In Wednesday's event, a total eclipse lasting up ...

Recommended for you

Crash test assesses plane emergency locator transmitters

16 hours ago

The Cessna 172 airplane dangled 82 feet in the air – looking almost like it was coming in for a landing, except for the cables attaching it to a huge gantry at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, ...

NASA image: Curiosity's stars and stripes

17 hours ago

This view of the American flag medallion on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity was taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 44th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Sept. 19, 2012). ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.