When the moon blotted out the sun

Last Updated 15 January 2010, 19:49 IST

The event which saw the sun transform into a bright ring or `annulus’ was the thrilling climax of a 4-hour-long progression of the moon across the path between the sun and the earth.

The rare celestial alignment which was eagerly anticipated by thousands across the country was most visible in southern parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In the State capital here, the eclipse began at 11.05 am and was marked by a dramatic and progressive fading of blazing sun about 30 minutes into the eclipse.

Viewed from the location at Kanakakunnu palace ground in Thiruvananthapuram, the partially masked sun initially seemed to send out strong rays along the moon’s outlines and it got hotter. However, as its turned further crescent, the sun’s light faded and by 12.45 pm there was a feel of twilight hour usually experienced before sunrise or after sunset having set in. At 1.10 pm,  the first signs of an  annulus or “ring of fire’’ began to surface as the photosphere of the sun got covered by the moon.
The over 10,000 people including children, young and old wearing special glasses who crowded the Kanakakunnu hilltop burst into cheers as the spectacle unfolded.

Elsewhere in the city in schools and stadiums special arrangements were  made for the public to view the eclipse through telescopes, solar scopes and LCD monitors.
The annularity was highest at 1.14 pm in Thiruvananthapuram with almost 93 per cent of the sun masked by the moon. It lasted for 7.15 minute here while it was longer in Rameswaram (10.08 mts) and Dhanushkodi (10.09 mts) in Tamil Nadu.
In Rameswaram, the annularity was as high as 96 per cent.  As expected, the eclipse ended at 3.05 pm.

Astronomers and astro-photographers from within the country and abroad flocked to the beach resort of Varkala near here which lay on the northern edge of the annular path. Their aim was to catch a rare view of ‘Bailey’s Beads’,  sunlight reflecting off the rugged moonscape and appearing as beads of light to viewers on the earth.  
Arun Jerald Prakash, director of State Science & Technology Museum here, said the temperatures during the eclipse fell between 5 degree and 7 degree celsius. Those who expected darkness to descend were disappointed since the moon was at the greatest distance from the earth and its size was insufficient to completely cover the sun.

Taboos go for a six
Rationalists used the occasion to break quite a few taboos which are observed by many people during an eclipse. Tea and snacks were distributed at various locations to break the superstition that food should not be cooked or eaten during eclipse hours.
Even as most temples in Kerala remained closed during the eclipse hours, the Sreekrishna temple at Thiruvarpu in Kottayam sought to defy the custom and opened it for special pujas. “The deity is powerful enough to ward off the ill effects of an eclipse,’’ said a temple official.

The spectacular solar eclipse started from central Africa and moved across the Indian Ocean, southern India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar and towards China where the eclipse ended. The next longest annular solar eclipse will occur on December 23, 3043.

(Published 15 January 2010, 19:49 IST)

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