The National Centre for Biological Sciences is calling for citizen volunteers to report responses of animals to the solar eclipse on January 15th. This event will have the longest annular duration for any eclipse until the year 3043.

EclipseWatch, a citizen science project has invited people all over India to watch animals during the solar eclipse on Friday, 15th January, and contribute their observations to a website set up for the purpose (www.eclipsewatch.in). A press release said solar eclipses are spectacular phenomena, inspiring myths and customs in diverse human communities, but also causing curious behaviour in animals.

On January 15, 2010, a total solar eclipse will be visible over many parts of the globe including Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Asia. In India, the eclipse will range from being nearly complete (96 per cent) in parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu to partial in varying degrees across other parts of the country. The duration and timing of the eclipse will also vary across the country. Though the next solar eclipse over India will occur in 2034, this year’s eclipse will be the longest of the millennium, the press release said.

A spokesperson for the organisers said humans had long looked at solar eclipses with a sense of wonder and fear. Yet, they were not the only species on the planet to react to such phenomena -- animals are known to change their behavior during eclipses too. Animals have sensory perceptions different from humans, and can see and hear differently. Light is an important cue for animals for their daily activities. Eclipses can change the surrounding light conditions dramatically. Do animals get confused with these changes? Do they behave as they would if it were night? Comparing animal behaviour at different localities across the sub-continent, each of which experiences the eclipse at different times with different magnitudes, will help understand the sensitivity of the animals to such changes, she said.

The eclipse provides a chance to record the response of birds and animals to an eclipse, and mass participation would enable verification of the patterns from multiple centres. "Anyone can participate in EclipseWatch by filling out a simple form with observations made before, during and after the eclipse. The information will be used to track the way in which animals change their behaviour in response to the eclipse. The birds and animals being tracked are “indicator” species like crows, sparrows, lizards and dogs, all of which are common and well-known across India. Further details, including the data collection form, are on the EclipseWatch website (www.eclipsewatch.in)," the spokesperson added.

EclipseWatch is a volunteer-based Citizen Science Programme based at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, a well-known research institute. Other Citizen Science projects include one monitoring migrating birds (MigrantWatch, www.migrantwatch.in), and a forthcoming project on flowering and fruiting of trees. Everyone is invited to join these projects.

The National Aeronatics and Space Administration website states that, "The instant of greatest eclipse occurs at 07:06:33 UT when the eclipse magnitude [2] will reach 0.9190. At this instant, the duration of annularity is 11 minutes 8 seconds, the path width is 333 kilometers and the Sun is 66° above the flat horizon formed by the open ocean. Such a long annular duration will not be exceeded for over 1000 years (3043 Dec 23). "

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