August 1, 2008

Chinese Hope Eclipse Brings Good Fortune A Week Before Olympics

One week before the Olympics open in Beijing, darkness fell over parts of China on Friday when a rare total eclipse ended its journey across the Earth.

A total eclipse happens when the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. This particular one started in Canada and tracked across Greenland and crept into Siberia before ending in China.

Cheers went up from the Jiayuguan Fort in northwest China, as hordes of tourists welcomed the eclipse.

"It's really doubly special, because I'm standing here on the Great Wall and watching it," said Feng Lei, a backpacker from the China's southwestern province of Sichuan, who was making his way to Beijing for the Olympics.

Ancient Chinese astronomers once considered Eclipses dark omens but many Chinese view this one as particularly fortunate as it comes exactly a week before the torch is lit in Beijing for the opening ceremony of Games designed to restore China's pride and showcase its achievements.

"I have a really deep feeling, especially because it's exactly eight days before the Olympics," said Chuai Rui, college student from Xi'an. Chinese consider eight a lucky number.

Thousands had flocked from around the world to Novosibirsk in Russia, mixing awe with excitement as day turned into night. All gazed in wonder at the sky as an eerie silence descended on the Siberian city.

"You just feel part of nature. ... This is so rare," said Lev, a software specialist in St Petersburg.

In Norway's capital, Oslo, where the eclipse was near 50 percent, thousands turned out to peer up at the sun through dark glasses in cardboard frames and see pictures of the total eclipse beamed onto a large screen from a plane tracking the phenomenon in the Arctic.

Many in the crowd tried photographing the eclipse, some with their mobile phones pressed against their eclipse sunglasses.

"There's a strange light now," said Norwegian astronomer and popular author Knut Jorgen Roed Odegaard as the eclipse progressed and the midday light in Oslo grew slightly dimmer with a silvery sharpness.

The eclipse ended in China where planeloads of foreigners converged to watch the sky go dark.

The Chinese hope the Olympics will usher in a new era where China is once more as modern, wealthy and important as it was more than 10 centuries ago, when imperial astronomers were among the world's best scientists.

In the state of Lu, the present-day Shandong, Chinese astronomers carefully recorded solar eclipses that can be dated as far back as 720 BC.

Superstitious Chinese courtiers and peasants once banged drums to scare away the dragon they thought was eating the sun. But these days, the modern view is a little more philosophical.

"I was born during an eclipse, and I have always felt that's made my life more fortunate," said a driver named Zhou. "But I didn't turn out to have any special genius, so I can't say the eclipse left any mark of fate or destiny on me."

Image Courtesy NASA