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Rare 'Ring of Fire' Solar Eclipse Crossed Skies of Africa, Asia

The moon partially covers the sun during an annual solar eclipse as seen from Siliguri, India, June 21, 2020.
The moon partially covers the sun during an annual solar eclipse as seen from Siliguri, India, June 21, 2020.

Many amateur astronomers in Africa and Asia had the chance to observe Sunday, for the summer solstice, a rare solar eclipse of the "ring of fire" type, despite the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus and sometimes unfavorable climatic conditions.

This astronomical phenomenon, which occurs once or twice a year, started soon after sunrise in central Africa, passing through the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Ethiopia before heading to Asia, to finish in the Pacific Ocean, south of the island of Guam, at 09:32 GMT, after having notably crossed India and China.

In this type of eclipse, the moon passes in front of the sun, in an alignment with the earth, but instead of completely blocking the sun, there remains a ring, called "ring of fire."

It was above India, in the state of Uttarakhand, near the border with China that the eclipse was "maximum" at 12:10 local time (06:40 GMT): earth, moon and sun were perfectly lined up for 38 seconds.

In Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, a little away from the ideal route, the curious could only observe a partial eclipse, with the clouds appearing for a few seconds at the precise moment when the moon should have come to hide almost entirely the sun.

Despite everything, "it was very exciting because I am obsessed with eclipses," said Susan Murabana, founder with her husband, Chu, of the educational program "Traveling telescope," told AFP.

Installed with their telescope on the roof of a residential district, they allowed dozens of people to observe the eclipse, via Facebook and Zoom platforms.

Normally, she and her husband would probably have taken people to camp near Lake Magadi (South), where the sky is generally clearer. But because of the coronavirus, movement into and out of Nairobi is prohibited.

In the Gulf countries, the observation of the phenomenon was thwarted by the humidity and dust of the summer heat.

In Sri Lanka, also because of COVID-19, the planetarium was closed to avoid gatherings.

Only about 15 students gathered around a telescope at the University of Colombo, the capital, broadcasting the images of the eclipse live on Facebook.

"There is a lot of misinformation around eclipses and we are trying to combat them in our program," professor Chandana Jayaratne, who heads the university's department of astronomy and space science, told AFP.

"For example, in Sri Lanka, pregnant women are told not to go out for fear that their babies will be born with heart defects. But we want to show people that an eclipse is nothing more than a game of shadows and light," he said.

On the other hand, specialists stress the need to wear special eclipse glasses, approved welders' masks, or to use the means of observation of amateur astronomers, but not to look at the star with the naked eye, even with sunglasses, which do not filter UV light.

In Hong Kong, dozens of spectators, experienced astronomers with telescopes or families, gathered in a park by the sea to attend the 90-minute show.

The crowd shouted in joy as the clouds cleared making the eclipse clearly visible.

Only 2% of the earth's surface was affected by the total phase of the eclipse, which makes the phenomenon exceptional.