Millennium`s longest solar eclipse leaves India spellbound

Dusk descended at noon in India on Friday when moon overshadowed the sun causing the millennium’s longest solar eclipse. While multitudes assembled to witness this magnificent phenomenon, it also gave an added auspicious edge to the ongoing Kumbh Mela where thousands congregate for the purgation of their sins.

Last Updated: Jan 16, 2010, 00:25 AM IST

Zeenews Bureau

Singapore: The longest, ring-like solar eclipse of the millennium started on Friday, with astronomers saying the Maldives was the best place to view the phenomenon that will not happen again for over 1,000 years.

US space agency NASA said on its website the eclipse was annular, meaning the moon will block most of the sun`s middle, but not its edges, causing it to look like a ring. This blockage will last for 11 minutes, 8 seconds, an annual duration NASA said would not be exceeded until December 23, 3043.

The eclipse began at 11 am in India and was first seen in Kanyakumari, with Dhanukhkodi near Rameshwaram and Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram being witness to the magnificent ‘Ring of Fire’. It ended at 3.11 pm.

Last time India saw the `Ring of Fire` was on November 22, 1965.

Astronomers from across the world gathered in Kerala to watch the eclipse which at its height was expected to last for three and a half minutes.

Veteran eclipse chaser Daniel Fischer from German astronomy magazine Interstellarum picked a vantage spot on a cliff in Varkala, 62 kilometres north of the state capital.

"I’m thrilled. My first eclipse was Indonesia in 1983. I can?’ afford to miss the event," said Fischer, who has witnessed 23 eclipses.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched three small rockets on Thursday and will fire a further 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 said.

Besides India, the "ring" will be seen in a narrow stretch spanning Central Africa, the Maldives, northern Sri Lanka, parts of Myanmar and China. In Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, it will be a partial eclipse, NASA said.

The eclipse gave an added auspicious edge to the Kumbh Mela festival where thousands of people immerse themselves in the Ganges River, an act believed to purge all sins.

"Today is a combination of a moonless night and a solar eclipse that (is also happening) during the time of Kumbh Mela,” said a monk.

"Taking a holy dip during the solar eclipse is a very pious act. It is very auspicious, it is very fruitful and it can get one salvation," Hindu priest Babu Ram Sashtri added in Haridwar.

"This is the first time I have seen this kind of eclipse." According to astronomical websites, the last annular eclipse occurred roughly 1 year ago, January 26, 2009. The next one will happen May 20, 2012.