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Longest full solar eclipse of century turns day to night in Asia, celestial show inspiring awe & fear in millions


By WcP.Observer - Posted on 24 July 2009

Top left: moon passes between sun & earth during solar eclipse as seen in Changsha, Hunan province, China; Bottom left: partial solar eclipse silhouettes birds surrounding minaret of shrine of Sufi Saint Bah-ud-din Zakria in Multan, Pakistan; Top right: dragonfly flies in sky during total solar eclipse in Seoul. South Korea; Bottom right: National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has seen what scientists say is the longest solar eclipse of the 21st century taken from the national observatory on Iojima island, Japan

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The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century was visible in a 155 miles corridor as it traveled half the globe and passed through the world's two most populous nations, India and China. The eclipse began at 5:28am local time (2358 GMT) in India and lasted up to a maximum of 6 minutes and 39 seconds when it hit the Pacific Ocean. Total eclipses are caused when the moon moves directly between the sun and the Earth, covering it completely to cast a shadow on Earth. Wednesday's was the longest since July 11, 1991, when a total eclipse lasting six minutes and 53 seconds was visible from Hawaii to South America. There will not be a longer eclipse until 2132.

Top right: Sadhu, or Hindu holy man, watches solar eclipse through specially-designed viewing glasses in Allahabad; Left: Hindu devotees take holy dips in the Sangam, confluence of Rivers Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Sarawati; Bottom right: Hindu devotees observe solar eclipse as they take holy dips in the Sangam

From the Ganges River in India to remote islands of the Pacific, the sun rose Wednesday, July 22, 2009 only to vanish again, allowing the stars to twinkle into view in the longest total solar eclipse this century will see — a celestial show that inspired awe and fear in millions across Asia.

Tens of thousands of people snaked through the narrow lanes of Varanasi and gathered for a dip in the Ganges, an act considered to lead to salvation from the cycle of life and death. Amid chanting of Hindu hymns, men, women and children waded into the river with folded hands and prayed to the sun as it emerged in an overcast sky. "We have come here because our elders told us this is the best time to improve our after-life," said Bhailal Sharma, a villager from central India, who came to Varanasi with a group of about 100 people.

On Wednesday, 2009 July 22, a total eclipse of the Sun is visible from within a narrow corridor that traverses half of Earth. The path of the Moon's umbral shadow begins in India and crosses through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. After leaving mainland Asia, the path crosses Japan's Ryukyu Islands and curves southeast through the Pacific Ocean where the maximum duration of totality reaches 6 min 39 s. A partial eclipse is seen within the much broader path of the Moon's penumbral shadow, which includes most of eastern Asia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Ocean

The skies darkened first in India just after dawn, then a wide swath of Asia was blackened as the eclipse moved eastward over southern Japan and then off into the Pacific Ocean. In some areas, the eclipse lasted as long as six minutes and 39 seconds.

Along the banks of the Ganges, thousands of devotees turned out to pray, chant and bathe in the waters, which were dotted with women in colorful saris and bare-chested men, all wearing dark glasses. Others in India were gripped by fear and refused to go outdoors. In Hindu mythology, an eclipse is said to be caused when a dragon-demon swallows the sun, while another myth says the sun's rays during an eclipse can harm unborn children. "My mother and aunts have called and told me stay in a darkened room with the curtains closed, lie in bed and chant prayers," said 24-year-old Krati Jain, who is expecting her first child.

a partial solar eclipse behind a mosque in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Wednesday

People were not so lucky in some other regions. On the tiny Japanese island of Akuseki, where the eclipse lasted six minutes and 25 seconds, more than 200 tourists had to take shelter inside a school gymnasium due to a tornado warning. But when the sky started to darken, everyone rushed out into the schoolyard, cheering and applauding. "The sky turned dark like in the dead of the night. The air turned cooler and cicadas stopped singing. Everything was so exciting and moving," said island official Seiichiro Fukumitsu. Some villagers said their cows gathered at feeding stations as darkness fell, apparently mistaking the eclipse as a signal it was dinner time, he said.

At a Buddhist temple in the Thai capital Bangkok, dozens of monks led prayers at a Buddhist temple to ward off evil. "The eclipse is bad omen for the country," said Pinyo Pongjaroen, a prominent astrologer. "We are praying to boost the fortune of the country." In Myanmar, Buddhists went to Yangon's famed Shwedagon pagoda, where monks in scarlet robes viewed the eclipse through telescopes.

a total solar eclipse is seen in Varanasi, India

Bringing flowers and fruit to ward off misfortune, some of the faithful warned friends and family not to sleep through the eclipse for fear of bringing bad luck. "We all got up early this morning and prayed at home because our abbot told us that the solar eclipse is a bad omen," said 43-year-old teacher Aye Aye Thein.

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Photos courtesy of Reuters, AP Photo / Khalid Tanveer, EPA, AP Photo / Rajesh Kumar Singh, NASA, Adil / AP, and AP Photo / Saurabh Das

Original Source: AP and Telegraph UK

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