The millennium's longest annular solar eclipse was partially seen in the national capital Friday but cloudy skies marred a clear view of the celestial spectacle. The weather, however, failed to puncture the spirit of enthusiastic students who had gathered at the Nehru Planetarium to view the rare event.
Scores of people gathered at the planetarium. So much was the excitement that officials at the planetarium admitted they were "nervous" about managing the crowd.
N. Ratnashree, director of the Nehru Planetarium, who left for Tamil Nadu to view the eclipse, said: "Initially we had just three officials to handle the arrangements at the planetarium for viewing of the eclipse. We did not anticipate a big crowd because it was just a partial eclipse."
"However with the enquiries pouring in over the last few days, we decided to get some more help so that the event can be managed well," she said over phone.
While the eclipse began at 11.06 a.m. in India, in Delhi the partial phase of the eclipse began at 11.53 a.m. and will end at 3.11 p.m. The maximum eclipse of 53 percent will be at 1.39 p.m.
"The eclipse began at 11.53 a.m. here. You can see it through the telescope. But because of the cloudy skies the view is not very clear," an official of the planetarium told IANS.
An annular solar eclipse occurs when the sun and the moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the moon's shadow is smaller than that of the visible disc of the sun. The covered sun, therefore, appears as a 'Ring of Fire', with its rays appearing spread out from the outline of the moon.
Last time India saw this 'Ring of Fire' was Nov 22, 1965. The maximum duration of the eclipse would be 11 minutes 8 seconds over the Indian Ocean, making it the longest annular eclipse of the millennium.
Ratnashree said: "People in southern parts of the country, especially in Dhanushkodi near Rameshwaram, will be lucky to see the heavenly sight of 'Ring of Fire'. The eclipse will be best viewed at Dhanushkodi for a duration of 10 minutes and 13 seconds".
Said Shitij Bagga of the Amateur Astronomers Association (AAA), who had set up his telescope on the open ground of the Nehru planetarium: "I couldn't see the start of the eclipse because of the clouds. But I am going to be here until the end so I am hoping the skies clear by then."
However, those who had come to see the eclipse at the planetarium remained unfazed. They wore filter goggles, peeped through the two large filter screens set up and shared their excitement with others.
Aditi Shankar, a student from Hansraj school, said: "We have always read about the solar eclipse in our science text books but this is the first time that we are actually seeing it happen. I will never forget this experience."
There were at least 11 buses parked outside the planetarium since early Friday, ferrying mostly students from nearby schools to view the eclipse. Teachers kept going around the ground, inspecting whether students had worn their filter goggles before seeing the eclipse and advising them not to watch the sight for more than four seconds at a stretch.
Anika Kumar was one of the many parents' who had come to the planetarium with her daughter to see the eclipse.
"It's a rare opportunity - to see the millennium's longest annular solar eclipse. Instead of just reading about the phenomenon in books, watching the eclipse happen live is a great learning experience - not just for the child, but even for us! I couldn't have missed this one," Kumar said.