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BG Sidharth on the Century's Last Eclipse

The total solar eclipse, which will be seen on August 11 from some parts of India, has been called the last total eclipse of the sun in the millennium. The last total solar eclipse seen from India was on Diwali day in 1995.

The total eclipse can be seen from a number of places across a narrow band extending from places like Srikakulam, Salur and Razan in the east through places like Akola, Anand and Baroda to the India-Pakistan border at Kutch.

However from eastern India the total solar eclipse can be seen from low in the West, which is not favourable, while from the western parts of India it can be seen a little higher in the west. In any case the totality of the eclipse can be seen for as little as about 18 seconds or a little less in the east to about one minute or a little more in the west.

Another factor which may be unfavourable is the fact that this is the monsoon so that the sky is very cloudy. The eclipse begins from about little after 50 minutes past 1600 hours IST in the west and up to about 16 minutes later in the east. But this is the partial phase of the eclipse when the sun is only partly covered. For the selected places in India the total phase of the eclipse, when the sun gets fully covered begins some 2 minutes before 1800 hours in the western parts and about 5 minutes after 1800 hours in the eastern parts. The total phase itself which lasts for a very short time is spectacular and worth seeing if weather permits.

From most other parts of India the eclipse is partial and not total. That is, the sun would appear only partially covered or eclipsed. From parts of India as little as about 70 per cent of the sun would be covered while from other parts of India as much as about 99 per cent would be covered. For other places it would be between these limits.

While the solar eclipse is worth seeing, it is most important that adequate precautions must be taken, otherwise serious eye problems including blindness could result. Seeing the sun through smoked glass is not recommended. The best method would be to see the reflection in some dark liquid, or through a couple of layers of over exposed photographic film, or the projection of the eclipse on a screen or through certified filters or spectacles. In any case it would be advisable to take the guidance of suitable eye doctors. In no case should the partial or total eclipse be seen with the naked eyes or binoculars or telescopes.

Dr B G Sidharth is the director of the B M Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad.