A Lifetime Eclipse

19 Jul

July 22, 2009 is going to be one special day in our lives being the day of the longest total solar eclipse of our lifetime. The eclipse will commence soon after sunrise starting in the Gulf of Cambay at Surat, Gujarat and then pan across India. The shadow of the moon will be so large during this eclipse that even at sunrise the duration of totality will be over three minutes. The shadow very quickly moves across the breadth of India towards Arunachal Pradesh. It spans a third of the entire path in India, 900 km out of 2,500 km.

solar-eclipseA total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and the earth, blocking out the sun from the areas in the moon’s shadow. Without the sun’s light, the sky darkens enough for stars to be seen and the corona makes a spectacular halo around the moon.

After the solar eclipse on July 22, the next one will be visible in the Indian sub-continent only 105 years later, on June 3, 2114. The total duration of the eclipse will be six minutes thirty-nine seconds, visible over the Pacific Ocean.

Places across the world where the eclipse will be visible

The countries that will witness the path of the Moon’s umbral shadow are India and Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China. In India, the shadow will sweep over the cities of Surat, Indore, Bhopal, Varanasi and Patna. Traveling across Bhutan, the eclipse will be visible in Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar, before reaching China at 6:35 am Indian Standard Time. China’s largest city Shanghai will experience the total solar eclipse for five minutes, he said, adding across the East China Sea, the eclipse will sweep over Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and Iwo Jima.

After leaving mainland Asia, the path crosses Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and curves southeast through the Pacific Ocean, where the maximum duration of totality will be 6 min 38 seconds.

A partial eclipse is seen within the much broader path of the moon’s penumbral shadow, which includes most of eastern Asia, Indonesia, and the Pacific Ocean, Devgun said. Greatest eclipse occurs in the South Pacific at 8.05 am IST. At this instant, the axis of the moon’s shadow passes closest to earth’s center.

The magnitude of total solar eclipse will be approximately 1.080. This solar eclipse is the longest total solar eclipse that will occur in the 21st century and will not be surpassed in duration until June 13, 2132. The next total solar eclipse will be on July 11, 2010 which will be seen in South pacific, Chile and Argentina.

Astronomy – the hot subject

Millions of people across this part of the world are looking forward to witnessing this eclipse. The upcoming solar eclipse has roused interest in astronomy leading to a heavy rush in planetariums across the country. G Madhavan Nair, Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has said that India plans to study in detail the effects of total solar eclipse on July 22.

“We are trying to see the effect on the ionosphere and the atmosphere when the solar eclipse takes place. So, we have to collect the data during this period and then one has to go through the details,” Nair said in Thiruvananthapuram.

All the major news channels will cover the solar eclipse live for the benefit of those who are too lazy to wake up and go to your rooftop that early or are worried of the ill-effects that it may be casting on watching it directly. Although, the total solar eclipse will be visible only in a small corridor in India, partial eclipses will be visible in other places. Nobody will not want to  kiss out watching this grand spectacle.

In Kolkata, people flocked to the MP Birla Planetarium to watch a special show on solar eclipse. “I have come here to see a special show on solar eclipse,” said Manjunath, a visitor.

Will the eclipse cast a spell?

Despite advances in science and technology and the growing awareness of it, Indians love to be rooted to their beliefs and misconceptions. The belief that the sun is at the mercy of two evil planets, Rahu and Ketu causing the eclipse, still prevails among a large section of people despite propagation of scientific temper among the masses. Many are worried whether the eclipse will cast a bad omen. Chance for a section to make quick money!

Temples across the country are witnessing a heavy rush of devotees, as most of them believe that offering prayers and rituals can ward off the possible ill effects of the eclipse.

“We are all informed about the solar eclipse that will take place on July 22 morning. If we pray to God, we are sure we will get rid of all obstacles and ill effects,” said Bhagwandas Sabnani, an organiser in a Bhopal temple.


The solar eclipse has also caught the attention of the tourism operators and they are planning to cash in on the new found interest in astronomy.

Cox & Kings, a travel agency claims that both amateur astronomers and others are booking for the Boeing-737 that they have hired for the two-hour journey from Delhi to Gaya in Bihar to watch the rare total solar eclipse. The flight is being organized under the technical guidance of Eclipse Chasers Athenaeum (ECA), a wing of the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE).

Each ticket is priced at 79,000 Rupees for the sun-side seats and 29,000 Rupees for the earth-side seats. The high prices are not stopping the people with the moolah from a chance of a lifetime to witness an event of a lifetime and brag about it rest of life.

“Well, we have got very strong response. The airline that we are flying has 21 seats facing the sun and 21 more window seats, which are facing away from the sun, facing the earth. We call them the ‘sun side seats’ and the ‘earth side seats’. The sun side seats, which will have direct view of the eclipse, cost about 79,000 rupees. We are actually getting very strong response form the amateur astronomy circles in India, from the corporate world and a wide variety of audience,” said Nikhil Pawar, Scientific Officer, Space Technology and Education Private Limited, Mumbai.

SPACE has planned a series of activities for the passengers aboard the flight. “There will be an astro magic show, explanation of the eclipse before and during the actual totality, a question and answer session and an eclipse parade,” said Anand.

Meanwhile, hotel owners in Patna are preparing to welcome the rush of astro-tourist guests expected to halt here.

“The solar eclipse on the 22nd can be seen from Bihar. The tourists will come on the 21st and 12 rooms have been booked for them in our hotel,” said Vinay Pandey, owner Hotel Republic, Patna. General Manager Hotel Maurya, Patna, B D Singh says, “My chef is working overtime especially as guests are coming from France, Italy and Germany. According to their taste, we are creating a different menu for that particular day.”

Surat and Vadodra in Gujarat, Indore and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh apart from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and Patna in Bihar are stated to be the ideal locations for good views of the total solar eclipse. The Gujarat government on Saturday announced it would offer free boarding to the first 200 people registering with them.

Bihar village in limelight

An obscure village in the eastern Indian state, Taregna of Bihar has suddenly shot into limelight as the best place in India to watch a total solar eclipse on 22 July

Astro-physicists and scientists have marked the village as the “epicentre” of the eclipse. About 35 kilometres from the Patna, the obscure village has suddenly shot into limelight with some 20,000 “astro-tourists” and scientists from all over the world expected to congregate here on the day of the eclipse.

The name Taregna, incidentally, means counting stars in Hindi. Legend has it that it was at Taregna that India’s famous astronomer and mathematician Aryabhatta studied stars and planets during the Vedic age.

Local authorities are excited by Taregna’s new-found status. Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has said he will be visiting the town on the day of the eclipse. “I have already instructed the officials to make proper arrangement for visitors at Taregna,” says Mr Kumar.

Authorities have earmarked four locations in Taregna from where people can view the eclipse. One of the village schools, St Mary School is one of them. “We are very excited that Taregna has been chosen as the place for the best view of the solar eclipse. So we are teaching our school students about eclipses and how to view them after taking precautions,” science teacher Ms Mamata says.

The limelight on the village may pass away, but the villagers will be happy with the sprucing up work happening in the village to receive all the tourists and scientists.Approach roads are being repaired, drains are being cleaned and faulty electric wires are being replaced.

External Links:
1) Graphic on the corridor where the solar eclipse will be visible
2) NASA page on the July 22 Solar Eclipse
3) Wikipedia Article on the July 22 Solar Eclipse
4) Photo Gallery on Chinese children preparing for the solar eclipse

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