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Spectacular ring of fire solar eclipse thrills skywatchers from Africa to Asia

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Skywatchers along a narrow band from west Africa to the Arabian Peninsula, India and the Far East witnessed Sunday a dramatic “ring of fire” solar eclipse.

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So-called annular eclipses occur when the Moon—passing between Earth and the Sun—is not quite close enough to our planet to completely obscure sunlight, leaving a thin ring of the solar disc visible.

They happen every year or two, and can only been seen from a narrow pathway across the planet.

Sundays eclipse arrived on the northern hemispheres longest day of the year—the summer solstice—when Earths north pole is tilted most directly towards the Sun.

The partial solar eclipse as seen from Yevpatoria, Crimea, on June 21, 2020. REUTERS – ALEXEY PAVLISHAK

The “ring of fire” was first visible in northeastern Republic of Congo from 5:56 local time (04:56 GMT) just a few minutes after sunrise.

This is the point of maximum duration, with the blackout lasting 1 minute and 22 seconds.

Arcing eastward across Africa and Asia, it reached “maximum eclipse”—with a perfect solar halo around the Moon—over Uttarakhand, India near the Sino-Indian border at 12:10 local time (0640 GMT).

The partial solar eclipse as seen from New Delhi, India, on June 21, 2020.
The partial solar eclipse as seen from New Delhi, India, on June 21, 2020. REUTERS – DANISH SIDDIQUI

More spectacular, but less long-lived: the exact alignment of the Earth, Moon and Sun was visible for only 38 seconds.

In Nairobi, east Africa, observers saw only a partial eclipse as clouds blocked the sky for several seconds at the exact moment the Moon should have almost hidden the Sun.

An Iranian woman uses special protective glasses to observe the solar eclipse, in Tehran, Iran, on June 21, 2020.
An Iranian woman uses special protective glasses to observe the solar eclipse, in Tehran, Iran, on June 21, 2020. via REUTERS – WANA NEWS AGENCY

Despite some disappointment Susan Murbana told AFP: “It was very exciting because I think Im so obsessed with eclipses.

“Today has been very kind to us in terms of the clouds. And weve been able to see most of it,” said Murbana who set up the Travelling Telescope educational programme with her husband Chu.

Without the coronavirus pandemic, they would have organised a trip to Lake Magadi in southern Kenya where the skies are generally clearer than over the capital.

“With the pandemic situation, were not able to have crowds… and get kids to look through or do stuff,” she said but still managed to share the event on social media.

“We had around 50 people joining us via Zoom and then we have so many people via our Facebook live.”

The annular eclipse is visible from only about two percent of Earths surface, Florent Delefie, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory, told AFP.

“Its a bit like switching from a 500-watt to a 30-watt light bulb,” he added. “Its a cold light and you dont see as well.”

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