October 3, 2005

Thousands Gather to See Annular Eclipse

MADRID, Spain -- Thousands of people across Portugal and Spain donned protective eyeglasses Monday to watch a rare and spectacular type of eclipse, which dimmed the Iberian peninsula beginning around 10 a.m.

In Madrid, entire families and groups of enthusiasts met at the city's planetarium beneath a cloudless sky to watch the eclipse directly or on a giant television screen. The event began with the moon taking a bite off the top of the sun.

During an annular eclipse, the moon masks the sun like a black plate, leaving a bright, fiery rim. The moon was too small to blot out the sun completely, as in a total eclipse, because its elliptical orbit has taken it too far from the earth.

However, the moon dims the daylight and drops temperatures slightly.

The rim of fire that appears around the moon glows brighter than the corona that is seen during a total eclipse.

"It's quite spectacular," said Dr. Stephen Maran, an astronomer with the American Astrological Society in Washington D.C.

The eclipse's three-and-a-half-hour path first traverses Portugal and Spain.

The Iberian peninsula hasn't witnessed an annular eclipse since April 1, 1764, and won't see another one until 2028. The last total eclipse seen in Iberia was in 1912.

The eclipse's narrow corridor will also travel across mostly deserted parts of Africa, encompassing Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Chad, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Outside that band, a partial eclipse will be visible through protective eyewear over most of Europe, the Middle East, India and a large chunk of Africa, though some cloud cover is forecast on that continent.

Authorities reminded the public to avoid looking at the sun without eye protection.

In Spain, where the event stirred keen anticipation, opticians selling 1 million special protective glasses said Friday they had virtually sold out.

In Portugal, the General Directorate for Health distributed free glasses with daily papers.

The eclipse started over the North Atlantic and quickly tracked southeast, crossing the Iberian peninsula. At 10:56 a.m. local time, the eclipse blanketed Madrid for 4 minutes, 11 seconds.

It then crosses the Mediterranean into North Africa, covering the Algerian capital, Algiers.

Central Sudan experiences the event's longest eclipse, lasting 4 minutes, 31 seconds.

The eclipse passes over the coast of southern Somalia and concludes at sunset over the Indian Ocean.


On the Net:

NASA eclipse site: http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/SEmono/ASE2005/ASE2005.html