Tue, May 22, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Ring of fire awes viewers in Asia

MOON VIEW:The astronomical event was witnessed by millions of onlookers across Asia and the US, who used special glasses to view the alignment of the sun and moon


A full annular solar eclipse appears in the sky over northern Taiwan at about 6am yesterday.

Photo: CNA

Millions of Asians watched as a rare “ring of fire” eclipse crossed their skies early yesterday.

The annular eclipse, in which the moon passes in front of the sun leaving only a golden ring around its edges, was visible to wide areas across the continent. It will move across the Pacific and also be seen in parts of the western US.

In Japan, “eclipse tours” were arranged at schools and parks, on pleasure boats and even private airplanes. Similar events were held in China and Taiwan as well.

The eclipse was broadcast live on TV in Tokyo, where such an eclipse has not been visible since 1839. The Taipei Astronomical Museum opened its doors at dawn and Hong Kong’s Space Museum set up solar-filtered telescopes outside its building on the Kowloon waterfront.

To the disappointment of many, a light rain fell on Tokyo as the eclipse began, but the clouds thinned as it reached its peak.

“It was a very mysterious sight,” said Kaori Sasaki, who joined a crowd in downtown Tokyo to watch event. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The eclipse was to follow a narrow 13,700km path for three-and-a-half hours. The ring phenomenon was to last about five minutes, depending on the location. People outside the narrow band for prime viewing would see a partial eclipse.

A “ring of fire” eclipse is not as dramatic as a total eclipse, when the disk of the sun is entirely blocked by the moon. The moon is too far from Earth and appears too small in the sky to blot out the sun completely.

Doctors and education officials have warned of eye injuries from improper viewing. Before the event started, Japanese Education Minister Hirofumi Hirano demonstrated how to use eclipse glasses in a televised news conference.

Police also cautioned against traffic accidents and warned drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

A curious effect of the solar eclipse that inspired awe across Asia was that it sent ring-tailed lemurs at a Japanese zoo into a frenzy, as they were fooled into thinking it was nighttime, an official said.

A group of about 20 lemurs at the Japan Monkey Center in central Aichi Prefecture jumped up and down wildly during the annular eclipse.

The once-in-a-lifetime event sent the primates into evening behavior, which involves a round of brisk exercise to keep their body temperature up, zoo director Akira Kato said.

Shortly before the eclipse, the lemurs climbed trees and poles in what Kato said was “very unusual” activity for that time of day.

“This is a behavior that they usually show in the evening, so that they raise their body temperature,” he added.

After the phenomenon passed, the excited lemurs calmed down and went back to their usual daytime routine of munching on grass and lying around.

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