Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spectacle of the eclipse

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon is caught between the sun and the Earth while each of them moves along their fixed orbits. Astronomers hope the eclipse would help to improve their understanding of the sun as it would offer a prolonged view of the sun's corona.

The next total solar eclipse will be on July 11 next year, but far fewer people are likely to see it as it tracks across the South Pacific over French Polynesia and Easter Island to the southern tip of South America. Lasting six minutes and 39 seconds in some Asian countries, it was visible for over four minutes over India before moving on to Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh, Bhutan and crowded Chinese cites along the Yangtze River, after which it headed out to the Pacific.

Throughout the day, Indian television channels relaying the eclipse featured a host of astrologers informing viewers of how it would impinge on their respective birth signs.

In ancient Chinese culture, an eclipsa was an omen linked to natural disasters or deaths in the imperial family.

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•Although eclipses of the Sun are spectacular events, they should NOT be viewed with the unaided eye except during the brief period of totality, which this time will not be visible anywhere in the UK. Looking at the partially eclipsed Sun without appropriate protection can cause serious and permanent damage to the eyes.

Like a rubber band that's been twisted too tightly, solar magnetic fields suddenly snap to a new shape while blasting billions of tons of plasma into space, at millions of miles per hour, in what scientists call a coronal mass ejection (CME). Or the magnetic field explodes as a solar flare with the force of up to a billion 1-megaton nuclear bombs.