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  -  BG Sidharth on the

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Shadow Over India

The skies will darken, the sun will be blotted out and snakes will writhe across... Yeah, yeah, India's going to see an eclipse on August 11. Total, solar. The moon will block out the sun for between 30 and 67 seconds in India.

It begins off the eastern coast of Canada at sunrise and ends in India at sunset. It will begin at 1356 IST and end at 1910 IST and occur across the globe. And though the partial phase can be seen pretty early from India, the sun will set long before the lunar sunscreen clears.

This is just the third total eclipse of the century for India. The first was on February 16, 1980 and the second on October 24, 1995.

The eclipse starts off about 200 km off Nova Scotia, moves over southwestern England, northern France, southern Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, northern Syria and Iraq, central Iran, southern Pakistan and, finally, India.

Scientists say the total solar eclipse will be best visible from Romania at 1400 IST. But, in India, the best places to view the eclipse in India are in Kutch, parts of Saurashtra and south Gujarat. Bhuj and Baroda lie on the central line the shadow of the moon takes. Of course, there is always the attendant risk of having rain clouds blot the sky out altogether. There is a thirty per cent chance of cloud cover, say experts.

A team of Indian astronomers and amateurs will head for Essahan in Iran to see the eclipse without the rains proving a damper.

The eclipse comes over Bhuj at 4.53 pm, where the total eclipse begins at 5.59 pm and ends at 6 pm. However, the partial eclipse will last till sunset.

At the other end of the country, in Surendra Nagar, Orissa, the total eclipse will begin at 6 pm and end at 6.01 pm. En route from Gujarat to Bhuj, the eclipse also passes through Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

For those who missed school the days that eclipses were discussed, they are what happen when the moon passes before the sun, flashing its shadow over earth. And since the moon and sun head in opposite directions, the shadow whips across the earth pretty fast.

Also, because of the size of the light source, a smaller weaker shadow surrounds the main one -- if you don't see how, line up a big lighted bulb and a small ball so that the shadow falls on the wall. You should see the darker main shadow, the umbra, and the surrounding one, the penumbra.

Check http://www.exploratorium.org for a more comprehensive explanation, including diagrams and a map of the path the eclipse will take. There is also a pretty neat gif on http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/TSE1999/T99animate.html to see the whole thing as you would from out there. But it doesn't cover India, no.

Eclipses have been of interest since ancient times. They were believed to be manifestations of divine intervention. Then, by 4000 BC or so, the Egyptians and Mayans had a fair idea when one was due. And more recently, in 1868, traces of a previously unknown element, helium, were detected on the sun. And then they were used to prove one of the key assertions of Einstein's theory, that light would be bent by a large body. And the largest body in the locality happens to be the sun.

The chance of seeing one is calculated at one every 360 years if you stay in one place. So quite a few tours are being organised.

At least one Indian travel agency, Sita Tours, is planning an eclipse tour, but the viewing will be in Bucharest in Romania, where the totality will last over two minutes.

The total solar eclipse can be seen from the sun temple at Arasavilli near Srikakulam. The solar eclipse of February 16, 1980 was also visible from there.

Experts said the eclipse will be visible at least in partiality throughout the country. This is touted as the last eclipse of the millennium.

For detailed timings of the timings of the eclipse in India, go to http://www.ultisoft.demon.co.uk/ec99time3.html#india


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