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American astronomer chasing his 50th solar eclipse

He has not missed any major eclipse in five decades. Jay Pasachoff, a 66-year-old American astronomer, travels across the globe chasing the best views of solar eclipses. Sure enough, he is in India to capture on camera the annual solar eclipse on Friday - it will be his 50th.

world Updated: Jan 13, 2010 09:02 IST

He has not missed any major eclipse in five decades. Jay Pasachoff, a 66-year-old American astronomer, travels across the globe chasing the best views of solar eclipses. Sure enough, he is in India to capture on camera the annual solar eclipse on Friday - it will be his 50th.

"When I came to know that India is one of the best places to get a clear view of the 'Ring of Fire' during the eclipse, I chose it as my 50th destination for eclipse viewing," Pasachoff, a professor of Astronomy at Williams College in Massachusetts (US), told IANS here.

"I am really excited about it and will travel down south to get a clearer view of the eclipse." The astronomer travelled to Kanyakumari in south India on Wednesday to watch Friday's eclipse. In India, the eclipse will start around 11 am and end around 3.15 pm. The eclipse will first be seen in the south in Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and then move to Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi. It will also pass through Mizoram in the northeast.

"I decided to go to Kanyakumari as it lies in the central line of the eclipse route and the 'Ring of Fire' will be visible quite clearly," he said.

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 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.

The last time India saw this Ring of Fire was on Nov 22, 1965, and it will not be witnessed again before June 21, 2020. The maximum duration of the eclipse will be 11 minutes, 8 seconds over the Indian Ocean, thus making it the longest annular eclipse of the millennium.

Pasachoff is carrying his three sophisticated cameras and telescopes to catch the clearest view of the eclipse.

"I will be taking some measurements and readings during the eclipse for research work," said the astronomer, who is chair of the Working Group on Eclipses of the International Astronomical Union.

Explaining his work in India, Pasachoff said: "I was in India during the 1980 and 1995 total solar eclipses. I travelled to Jaipur and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan and clicked some awesome pictures of the eclipse."

According to the astronomer, people should come out in large numbers and watch the eclipse with proper gear for this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that should not be missed.