As the shadow of the moon eclipsed the sun on Friday afternoon, leaving only a blazing ring of fire visible, scientists, eclipse chasers and spectators gathered in Rameshwaram cheered.
Thousands had assembled at the seaside pilgrimage spot to witness this rare celestial phenomenon — an annular eclipse of the sun for over 11 minutes.
The eclipse, which could be seen across parts of Africa and Asia, began in India around 11 a.m. in Kerala and was to end around 3:15 p.m. in Mizoram. The southern tips of Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu offered the best views.
In an annular eclipse the sun and moon are directly in line with the viewing point on earth and the outer rim of the sun is visible around the moon’s smaller shadow.
People at Dhanushkodi, about 18 km from here, touted as the best location to watch the longest eclipse in a century, were excited as the moon began to cover the sun.
It is from places like Dhanushkodi, Kanyakumari, Varkala that people would be able to see the ring of fire as the moon tries to block the Solar disc leaving the edges flaring.
“I’ve seen many eclipses. But this is the first time I saw the golden ring of fire. It was perfect,” said Paresh Sanyal, who travelled some 2,260 kilometres from Kolkata to Dhanushkodi. Mr. Sanyal, a veteran of 15 eclipses, calls himself an ecliptomaniac.
ISRO fires nine rockets
Two of India’s rocket bases were in the path of the moon’s shadow, and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) set off nine small sounding rockets before, during and after the eclipse to investigate its effects on the atmosphere.
The data collected would be used to study how the sudden cut-off of solar radiation affects the atmospheric structure and dynamics, an ISRO release said.
The eclipse occurred at noon when the sun was at its zenith and its radiation maximum. Combined with the fact that the eclipse was exceptionally long, it provided a unique opportunity to carry out studies, the release said.
But while the scientists and eclipse chasers were out in full force, many Indians followed taboos such as staying indoors or abstaining from eating or cooking during the eclipse period. Several Hindu temples across India remained closed for the duration of the eclipse.
Thousands prepared to take a holy bath to cleanse themselves of the effects of the eclipse as soon as it ended.
Rationalists encourage eclipse-watchers
In Delhi, the eclipse began at 11:53 a.m.
Several skywatchers watched the celestial spectacle from Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi where special arrangements were made.
Projectors, telescopes and special solar view goggles were made available to the people who gathered to have a glimpse of the cosmic event.
Many people who had gathered at the planetarium were brimming with excitement as they watched the celestial show.
The Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE), a Delhi-based organisation, attempted to debunk the superstitions associated with the eclipse, by encouraging people to understand the celestial phenomenon.
“We are encouraging people to eat food and drink water to bust all myths about the eclipse,” Sachin Bahmba, founder of SPACE said.
“We did several experiments like recording temperature, humidity, wind speed and ambient light during the eclipse,” Mr. Bhamba, who himself is an astronomer, added.
Luxury vessel tracks eclipse
SPACE also tied up with a cruise ship company to follow the eclipse at sea. The luxury vessel travelled from the port town of Kochi in central Kerala to the Maldives Thursday, carrying over 800 tourists, eclipse chasers and scientists from SPACE with special equipment to view the ring of fire from the capital Male.
Kanyakumari, the country's southernmost tip, has turned out to be an 'eclipse destination', as thousands of people converged here to watch the celestial spectacle.
Rajendra Ratnoo, district collector of Kanyakumari said: “Television sets have been set up at the viewing centre near the Public Works Department guesthouse. A telescope has been connected to a plasma TV for people to see.” He said around 750 students from 25 states have come to Kanyakumari to witness the celestial spectacle.
According to the police, around 150 security personnel have been deployed as they expect around 15,000 people to visit the viewing centre.
Seven telescopes have been set up in addition where facilities have been made to view the eclipse through pin hole and mirror projection.
The last time India saw this ‘Ring of Fire’ was November 22, 1965, and it will not be witnessed again before June 21, 2020. The next longest annular solar eclipse will be seen in 3043.