A rare annular solar eclipse occurred on Sunday, June 21, amid the coronavirus pandemic, mesmerising sky-gazers across the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. During this celestial wonder, the moon’s diameter was 99.4% as large as that of the sun. The width of the sunlight’s ring was at its thinnest and measured no more than six-tenths of one per cent of the sun, causing a shiny semblance of a ring of fire around the edges of the moon.
According to the press statement released to Space in Africa on June 15 by the African Astronomical Society (AfAs) in a bid to tip-off space enthusiasts of the imminent annular occurrence, the moon’s pathway was stated to be around 60 km wide, cutting across The Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan through Ethiopia and Eritrean Nation and also trotting through other eastern parts of the globe, significantly the south of Pakistan and India through a border of China.
Reports emerging have shown many enthusiasts who despite the Covid-19 pandemic devised a means to behold the spectacle. Although, as a result of gloomy weather conditions as expected in the tropical African regions and other parts of the earth, some could not take a glimpse of the eclipse. In different countries of the world, this solar event was met with varying reactions as diverse religious and cultural implications of the solar eclipse were perceived by various local communities.
In India, the solar eclipse is called “Surya Grahan”. India welcomed its first solar eclipse of the year with meditations, singing devotional hymns and chanting of mantras. Worshipping and touching of gods are also strictly prohibited during this time as well as cooking. Pregnant women stayed indoors to rest as they believe they are susceptible to evil forces.
The annular eclipse was first visible in The Republic of Congo just a few minutes after sunrise by 5:56 local time (04:56 GMT) just a few minutes after sunrise, where viewers experienced the “ring of fire”, resulting in an almost-complete blackout that lasted a minute and 22 seconds.
The astronomical phenomenon then moved eastwards across Africa and Asia before metamorphosing to a maximum eclipse— a perfect solar halo around the Moon — in the southern and northern part of Asia. It was observed in Uttarakhand, India near the border with China at 12:10 local time (06:40 UTC). The exact alignment of the Earth, moon and the sun was also visible for 38 seconds in this part of the globe.
In Nairobi, a city in Kenya, sky-gazers only saw a partial eclipse as clouds blocked the sky for some second as at the exact moment the sun should have eclipsed the moon. There were complaints about the coronavirus pandemic as without the fear, people and kids would have taken a trip to Lake Magadi in Southern Kenya, where the skies would have been clearer than it was in Nairobi.
For hundreds of kilometres on either side of the eclipse’s path in Nairobi, people experienced daylight grow dimmer, but could not see the ring of fire. Solar eclipses occur around two weeks before or after lunar eclipses when the moon moves into the shadow of the Earth.
The Kenyan situation reflects the fears of astronomy experts on the inability of people to observe the eclipse due to weather conditions. “Good weather is the key to successful eclipse viewing,” astrophysicist Fred Espenak, an expert on eclipse prediction, commented on the NASA Eclipse website. “Better to see a shorter eclipse from (the) clear sky than a longer eclipse under clouds.”, Espenak had been reported to have said.
Despite everything, “it was very exciting because I am obsessed with eclipses,” Susan Murabana, founder –with her husband, Chu– of the educational program “Traveling telescope,” told AFP.
In Ethiopia, it began with the donation of solar eclipse sunshades by a non-for-profit group; Astronomers Without Borders. The group donated 16,000 recycled eclipse glasses, providing skywatchers with a safe way to watch the moon cross in front of the sun.
The full eclipse was visible to the people of Ethiopia, India, and Pakistan. While the scenery was last observed in parts of China around 8:32 AM.
Sri Lanka closed down its planetarium to deter the gathering of enthusiasts and astronomers but live-streamed the solar event on the social media platform, Facebook. In the university of Colombo, some students reportedly used a welding glass to watch the solar eclipse, while others used glasses made from filters that cut out ultraviolet rays.
With coronavirus fears still in the air, Nepal capital Kathmandu saw dozens of astronomers, students, and enthusiasts gathered on the roof as only a few persons were allowed to the viewing areas.
In Hong Kong, groups of skywatchers ranging from astronomy enthusiasts armed with telescopes to families enjoying the father’s celebration were gathered in East Kowloon to watch this solar spectacle, which lasted over an hour.
The international Astronomical centre United Arab Emirate’s capital is Abu Dhabi live-streamed the event, which lasted for over 2 hours. As people prepared to be wowed by the event, they were also advised against looking directly at the sun during the eclipse using ordinary glasses as it could destroy the eyes. The moon began to pass over the sun by 8:14 am in the UAE. People gathered outside their houses across the country before the eclipse peaked at 9:36 am.
The solar eclipses were seen in different parts of Central and Eastern Africa, including Congo Republic, DR Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti; the southern Arabian Peninsula, including Yemen, Oman, and southern Saudi Arabia; parts of South Asia and the Himalayas, including southern Pakistan, Northern India, Nepal, and Tibet; parts of East Asia, including South China and Taiwan, and part of Micronesia, including Guam while a partial eclipse was visible throughout much of the rest of Africa, southeastern Europe, most of Asia (except the north part of Siberia and most of the island of Java), and in New Guinea and the north of Australia just before sunset. In Europe, the partial eclipse was visible for places southeast of the line roughly passing through Perugia, Miskolc, Lviv, and Yaroslavl.
Only 2% of the earth’s surface was affected by the total phase of the eclipse. Another solar eclipse will happen on December 14 over South America. This time the moon will be closer to the Earth and will block out the sun’s light completely.