Archive for Thursday, March 30, 2006

Solar eclipse inspires awe across globe

March 30, 2006

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— Thousands of skygazers gathered in an ancient temple of Apollo and let out cheers Wednesday as a total solar eclipse turned day into twilight, casting an eerie blue glow across the sky and the Mediterranean Sea.

NASA astronomers handed out protective glasses to hundreds of Turkish children before the eclipse cut a dark swath across the sky - a band that stretched from Brazil, across West Africa, Turkey and Central Asia, then disappeared at sunset in Mongolia.

The last total solar eclipse was in November 2003, but that was best viewed from sparsely populated Antarctica. Wednesday's eclipse blocked the sun in highly populated areas.

In Ghana, automatic street lamps switched on as the light faded, and authorities sounded emergency whistles in celebration. Schoolchildren and others across the capital, Accra, burst into applause.

Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq were summoned to mosques during the eclipse for a special prayer reserved for times of fear and natural disasters.


A group of schoolchildren look at the solar eclipse in Accra, Ghana. The students cheered Wednesday as the first total eclipse in years plunged Ghana into daytime darkness, an eagerly awaited solar show that swept northeast from Brazil to Mongolia.

A group of schoolchildren look at the solar eclipse in Accra, Ghana. The students cheered Wednesday as the first total eclipse in years plunged Ghana into daytime darkness, an eagerly awaited solar show that swept northeast from Brazil to Mongolia.

In the Turkish resort of Side, a crowd of some 10,000 began cheering and whistling as the moon took its first bite out of the sun. When the moon masked the sun and Venus suddenly appeared in the blue glow of the darkened sky, another loud cheer went up.

"It's one of those experiences that makes you feel like you're part of the larger universe," said NASA astronomer Janet Luhmann, who witnessed the eclipse from the ruins of an ancient Roman theater just a few hundred feet from the temple of Apollo.

As the moon covered the sun, the temperature dropped quickly and some skygazers put on sweaters. The sun blackened and a fiery rim surrounded it; the sky turned an eerie dark blue while a bright sunset red could be seen on the horizon.

The moon began blocking out the sun in the morning in Brazil before cutting a dark swath across Africa, then Turkey and up into Mongolia, where it faded out with the sunset.

Total eclipses require the tilted orbits of the sun, moon and Earth to line up exactly so that the moon obscures the sun completely.

The next total eclipse will occur in 2008.

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