March 29, 2006
Eyes to the sky as solar eclipse crosses globe
By Orla Ryan
CAPE COAST, Ghana (Reuters) - Shouting, clapping or praising God, awestruck locals and tourists gazed skywards on Ghana's coastline on Wednesday as a total solar eclipse cast a shadow across Africa and tracked on to the Middle East.
The track of the eclipse stretches from eastern Brazil, across the Atlantic to north Africa, then on to the Middle East, Central Asia, west China and Mongolia.
The longest view -- four minutes and seven seconds -- was at Libya's Wao Namus settlement near the Chadian border 1,250 miles south of Tripoli.
The air cooled and an eerie half-light descended over the ancient slave fort at Cape Coast, west of Ghana's capital Accra, as the moon obscured the sun for approximately three minutes.
Cries of "Hallelujah" and "Praise the Lord" rang out as watchers shouted and clapped in excitement, sharing protective glasses. Drivers hooted their horns.
The shadow of the eclipse, which occurs when the moon passes directly in front of the sun, made landfall on Ghana's coastline at 4.08 A.M. EST and moved swiftly inland.
"It is amazing, the best experience of my life. I never imagined I would see this, it is a wonderful experience," said Jan Jalving, a Dutch visitor to Cape Coast.
As soon as the outline of the moon began to creep across the face of the sun, crowds turned out on the beaches and streets, on balconies and rooftops at Cape Coast.
Foreign tourists traveled to Ghana especially to see the eclipse.
For 51-year-old amateur astronomer Lou Petterchak, from Denver, Colorado, it was the fifth he had witnessed.
"I am touring the world, one eclipse at a time. I enjoy the eclipse, it is much more of an excuse to travel," he said.
"The eclipse is the coolest natural phenomenon I have ever seen in my life," said another U.S. tourist, Evelyn Alton.
"I turn 50 next month, it is kind of a treat for my birthday," she added.
Across the continent at Salloum, an Egyptian town on the border with Libya, thousands including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his wife Suzanne gathered to watch. Some onlookers blew trumpets, beat drums and danced.
Astronomers observed the phenomenon through telescopes and tourists from all over the world peered through protective sunglasses and binoculars as the moon passed in front of the sun and the temperature dropped.
"I feel excited. This is the first time I've seen something like this in life," Egyptian Hady Gohar said.
Partial solar eclipses are fairly common, but total eclipses are rarer and involve the moon totally obscuring the sun, a sight visible within a specific corridor, more than 100 km (60 miles) wide, which traverses half the earth.
African governments warned their people not to risk damage to their eyesight by trying to view it with the naked eye.
Tens of thousands of pairs of simple sunglasses or "solar goggles" were being distributed or sold to allow people to view the eclipse safely.
Togo's government declared a half-day holiday on Monday and recommended that parents keep their children indoors to stop them damaging their eyes.
At Cape Coast, African and U.S. academics organized a conference on astrology and culture to coincide with the event.
Tanzanian Felix Chami, a professor of archaeology at the University of Dar es Salaam, said people in the past had often attributed religious significance to eclipses, though these beliefs had waned somewhat in modern times.
"Today, people are mostly Christian. In the past, people were scared, they believed that the sun was God and that the eclipse meant something was wrong with the sun," he said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry)