22 Jul 2009

Millions watch longest solar eclipse

9:17 pm on 22 July 2009

People in Asia and the Pacific have seen the longest total solar eclipse this century, with large areas of India and China plunged into darkness.

Amateur stargazers and scientists travelled far to see the eclipse, which lasted six minutes and 39 seconds at its maximum point.

The eclipse could first be seen early on Wednesday in eastern India. It then moved east across India, Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Japan and the Pacific.

Elsewhere, a partial eclipse was visible across much of Asia.

The next total solar eclipse will occur on 11 July next year. It will be visible in a narrow corridor over the southern hemisphere, from the southern Pacific Ocean to Argentina.

In India, millions gathered in open spaces from the west coast to the northern plains, with clouds parting in some cities at dawn - just before the total eclipse, the BBC reports.

But thick clouds and an overcast sky obscured the view at the Indian village of Taregna, "epicentre" of the eclipse.

Many of the thousands of people who gathered there to watch the eclipse left the village disappointed.

In India and Nepal, where it is considered auspicious to watch the eclipse while immersed in holy water, crowds gathered at rivers or ponds, including tens of thousands of people at Varanasi on the Ganges.

For others, the eclipse was seen to be a bad omen. In Nepal, authorities shut all schools for the day to avoid exposing students to any ill-effects.

Some parents in Delhi kept their children from attending school at breakfast because of a Hindu belief that it is inauspicious to prepare food during an eclipse, while pregnant women were advised to stay inside due to a belief that the eclipse could harm a foetus.