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Observers Converge to Glimpse Solar Eclipse


A total eclipse of the sun will be visible Wednesday in parts of Asia and Africa. The best viewing location is expected to be in Libya, which has issued special tourist visas for the event. But thousands of eclipse-watchers have converged on a tiny corner of northwest Egypt to catch the solar spectacle as well.

On the road to Salloum, every two kilometers there is a sign warning that no photography is allowed. The heavily militarized border zone does not normally see many Western tourists. But now they have come here by the busload.

Security is incredibly tight, even for Egypt, and nobody gets into Salloum without a permit. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of tourists have come from around the world, bringing special eclipse-viewing glasses as well as cameras and video recorders to a rarely visited corner of the country for the total solar eclipse.

Amateur astronomer Nancy Cox came from San Francisco, California, to see her third eclipse.

"It is dark enough that stars and planets start to come out," said Ms. Cox. "Birds will start to roost. Dogs will roll up and go to sleep. It is all just very, very interesting. There are many things to watch. When it comes in and out, there can be an effect like a diamond ring. You are actually seeing the silhouette of the mountains on the moon. If there is a little valley where the sunlight can poke through, this little glint of light will be there for just a second."

The best viewing sites are expected to be in Libya, where the eclipse will last for more than four minutes, roughly twice as long as the average eclipse. Libya can normally be difficult to visit as a tourist, but the Libyan government has issued thousands of special visas to eclipse watchers who will watch the spectacle from several different spots in the Libyan desert.

In Egypt, the eclipse is only visible from this tiny corner of the country, an eight-hour drive from Cairo. Busloads of tourists are camping in tents in a special viewing area within sight of the Libyan border, since there are few hotels here to house them.

Many of them, including Nancy Cox, plan to visit some of Egypt's more familiar, and more accessible, tourist sites before leaving the country.

"I wanted to see pyramids along with my eclipse," she added. "[I want to see the] Pyramids and all the ancient monuments, because I have been on this kind of quest to see ancient antiquities, before I am an antiquity!"

Cox plans to paint the eclipse afterward, because she says some things simply cannot be captured on film. It takes special camera equipment to photograph the sun during one of these events. Professional photographer Steve Harrison has the right gear, and he has been practicing for this, his first eclipse. But he is keeping a wary eye on the weather. He expected it to be sunnier than it has been lately in Egypt.

"It was a cognitive error," he explained. "I mean, it is fine being here, I like Egypt, but I just figured it is desert and there was not a lot of clouds. But as you can see, there are plenty of clouds, and there was rain, and it is cold. It was, all of my basic perceptions were based on ignorance."

Harrrison and everyone else who trekked to Salloum for the event are hoping for clearer skies Wednesday.

For those eclipse fans who could not make it to North Africa, there is still hope. When the moon moves in front of the sun in Salloum, viewers around the world will be able to watch it live via the Internet.

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