Solar eclipse attracts global attention

By United Press International

For professional and amateur astronomers and the simply curious in a path that stretched from Baja California to Morocco, Tuesday's solar eclipse provided a spectacle that cooled the air, darkened the sky and had confused birds roosting for the night.

It caused New Hampshire state legislators to adjourn temporarily to see the moon block the sun with special glasses supplied by the Christa McAuliffe Planetarium. Thousands of observers around the U.S. flocked to observatories for the best view.


The event was an annular eclipse, the last major eclipse visible this century in the United States. The annulus, or ring, of sun appeared along a path about 140 miles (225 km) wide from Baja California to Nova Scotia. As much as 95 percent of the sun was blocked by the moon.

Unlike a total eclipse, the moon is too distant from the Earth to cover the entire sun's disk, so the ring of light, or annulus, is visible.


'It was a real eclipse party' of tourists and news reporters at the National Solar Observatory, outside Sunspot, N.M., said Dr. Raymond Smartt, an observatory senior scientist. But some scientists were in less of a partying mood.

'The scientists were up and down in their emotions,' said Smartt. 'It would be clear and everything looked fine,' Smartt said of the four groups of scientists who finally had trained their instruments on the eclipse after anticipating the event for eight months. But then their view was obscured by intermittent, fast-moving clouds, which limited the amount of data two of the groups could collect.

The four research groups -- from Germany, France, the University of California at San Diego, and the National Solar Observatory -- used the occasion to probe the secrets of the sun from the observatory, the only U.S. facility of its kind in the path of the eclipse.

Hundreds of people also assembled in the northwest Ohio farming community of Wauseon, where the eclipse's visibility was said to be best.

Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration named Wauseon the point of 'maximum annularity' for the event in North America, since 95 percent of the sun's disk was obscured there. And Wauseon was at the mid-point of the eclipse's path across the Earth, so the eclipse was visible longest there.


At the height of the eclipse, which only lasted about six minutes, the air temperature dropped six degrees and the sky took on a darker blue hue.

It was an event that won't be repeated in the same spot for hundreds of years. An annular eclipse only occurs once every 350 years in any given location, University of Toledo Professor Adolf Witt said. The next annular eclipse will be visible in parts of North America in 2012.

In Wheeling, Ill, north of Chicago, viewers were treated to a perfect view of the eclipse via cardboard boxes prepared for indirect viewing. Birds roosted for the night as the sun became blocked, and woodpeckers began pecking away as they normally do during the evening or early morning.

Dozens of office workers massed outside a midtown Manhattan building near Madison Square Garden. Many crowded around Patricia Gottier, who viewed the solar spectacle with special glasses -- nothing more than a piece of dark film in a cardboard frame.

'I bought them in San Diego during the eclipse there in January 1992,' said Gottier. She and her husband have seen three lunar eclipses and two solar eclipses and frequently time their vacations to coincide with celestial happenings.


'The San Diego eclipse was once in a lifetime,' she said. 'But this one is pretty good, too.'

New York City's Emergency Medical Service said it had no reports of people being hurt by looking at the sun. However, an EMS spokeswoman said nearly the entire administrative staff filed into the street to catch a glimpse of the event.

'The eclipse came off even better than planned,' said Martin Ratcliffe, planetarium department head at The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, where 92 percent of the sun was obscured by the moon at 1:20 p.m. EDT.

'It turned to a very pale, yellowish golden color of light and very soft shadows,' Ratcliffe said.

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