‘Ring of fire’ solar eclipse thrills skywatchers on longest day

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HONG KONG, June 21, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – Skywatchers along a narrow band
from west Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Far East
witnessed a dramatic “ring of fire” solar eclipse Sunday.

So-called annular eclipses occur when the Moon — passing between
Earth and the Sun — is not quite close enough to our planet to
completely obscure sunlight, leaving a thin ring of the solar disc
visible.

They happen every year or two, and can only be seen from a narrow
pathway across the planet.

Sunday’s eclipse arrived on the northern hemisphere’s longest day
of the year — the summer solstice — when the North Pole is tilted
most directly towards the Sun.

It was first visible in northeastern Republic of Congo from 5:56
local time (04:56 GMT) just a few minutes after sunrise.

That was the point of maximum duration, with the blackout lasting a
minute and 22 seconds.

Arcing eastward across Africa and Asia, it reached “maximum
eclipse” — with a perfect solar halo around the Moon — over
Uttarakhand, India near the Sino-Indian border at 12:10 local time
(0640 GMT).

More spectacular, but less long-lived: the exact alignment of the
Earth, Moon and Sun was visible for only 38 seconds.

In Nairobi, East Africa, observers saw only a partial eclipse as
clouds blocked the sky for several seconds at the exact moment the
Moon should have almost hidden the Sun.

Despite some disappointment, Susan Murbana told AFP: “It was very
exciting because I think I’m so obsessed with eclipses.

“Today has been very kind to us in terms of the clouds. And we’ve
been able to see most of it,” said Murbana who set up the Travelling
Telescope educational programme with her husband Chu.

– Coronavirus hits viewing –

Without the coronavirus pandemic, they would have organised a trip to
Lake Magadi in southern Kenya where the skies are generally clearer
than over the capital.

“With the pandemic situation, we’re not able to have crowds… and
get kids to look through or do stuff,” she said, but still managed to
share the event on social media.

The annular eclipse is visible from only about two percent of
Earth’s surface, Florent Delefie, an astronomer at the Paris
Observatory, told AFP.

“It’s a bit like switching from a 500-watt to a 30-watt light
bulb,” he added. “It’s a cold light and you don’t see as well.”

Sri Lanka closed its planetarium to prevent a gathering of amateur
astronomers due to the coronavirus outbreak, but live-streamed the
celestial event on Facebook.

A small group of about 15 students huddled around a telescope at
the University of Colombo to watch the eclipse.

Some students used a welding mask to stare at the sun, while others
wore glasses made with filters that cut out ultra-violet rays.

Coronavirus precautions were also taken in Nepal’s capital,
Kathmandu, as dozens of students and astronomy enthusiasts gathered on
a rooftop.

Only a few were allowed at the viewing area at a time, wearing
masks and sanitising their hands as they waited their turn.

“I was worried because it is a cloudy day, but the view was
excellent,” 19-year-old student Swechhya Gurung told AFP.

In Hong Kong, dozens of skywatchers ranging from astronomy
enthusiasts with telescopes to families enjoying Father’s Day gathered
at a waterfront park in east Kowloon to witness the spectacle, which
lasted about 90 minutes.

– Lunar eclipse to follow –

Cheers erupted from the crowd when the cloud cleared and the
eclipse was clearly visible.

The full eclipse was visible at successive locations over a period
of nearly four hours, and one of the last places to see the partially
hidden Sun was Taiwan.

A solar eclipse always occurs around two weeks before or after a
lunar eclipse, when the Moon moves into Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses
are visible from about half of the Earth’s surface.

A lunar eclipse is due on July 5, with the best viewing over North
and South America, southern Europe and Africa.

There will be a second solar eclipse in 2020 on December 14 over
South America. Because the Moon will be a bit closer to Earth, it will
block out the Sun’s light entirely.