Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 March - 5 April 2006
Issue No. 788
Front Page
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

In the eye of the sun


Click to view caption
Dark glasses are the order of the day for President Mubarak, Mrs Mubarak and thousands who viewed the eclipse

YESTERDAY, 10.40 GMT, and the sun suddenly disappeared in Sallum. The sky went dark, stars twinkled in the sky, and the temperature dropped by nearly 14 degrees Celsius. A lunar shadow rushed across the ground and then, within a few minutes, everything was back to normal.

In the small coastal town on the Egyptian- Libyan borders, Rehab Saad witnessed the first solar eclipse of 2006, a spectacular show of nature.

Almost 6,000 tourists and scientists were joined by 2,500 locals on top of Hadabet El-Salam (Salam Plateau) in Sallum to watch the spectacle, which lasted for just three minutes and 58 seconds. President Hosni Mubarak was among the spectators, together with several members of the cabinet and a huge media corps.

Sallum was the only Egyptian city from which the total eclipse could be seen. Elsewhere it was partial.

The moon began its passage across the face of the sun at 9.20 GMT. When the sun completely disappeared the spectators cheered, and hugged each other, some shouting Allah Akbar while others prayed.

Scientists from Egypt, Korea, China, the Czech Republic, Russia, Italy, Malaysia and Kazakhstan watched through sophisticated telescopes.

"The most important thing for us is to study the corona -- the outer atmosphere of the sun -- as it radiates from behind the dark silhouette of the moon. The corona has a big effect on space weather," said Abdel-Fattah Galal, head of the National Research Institute of Astronomy and Geophysics.

The track of the eclipse began in eastern Brazil, where the moon's umbra shadow appeared at 08.36 GMT. After crossing the equator. The shadow could be seen on the Ghanian coast at 09.08 GMT, where the 1.7 million inhabitants of Accra were treated to a total eclipse lasting two minutes and 58 seconds. Moving inland the umbra could be seen in Togo at 09.14 GMT. Two minutes later it had reached Benin, then Nigeria, Chad and Libya. It then crossed the Mediterranean to reach the southern coast of Turkey by 10.54 GMT. At 11.10 GMT from the Black Sea and by 11.48 GMT, it was visible from the northern border of Mongolia.

The next total eclipse will be on 1 August 2008, and will be visible along a corridor that stretches from North America and extends across Europe and Asia. The next total eclipse visible from Egypt is expected to occur in 2027 when the Valley of Kings in Luxor will be the best viewing site.

Egyptian tourist officials capitalised on yesterday's eclipse, in cooperation with 80 travel agencies that brought British, American, Italian, Spanish and Japanese tourists to Sallum.

"You can call me an eclipse addict. This is the third eclipse I have seen and in 2008 I am planning to see yet another in Mongolia," said Cecilia Brooke from Australia.

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