Watchers awed by moon's shadow show in century's darkest eclipse.


2 May 2011
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NEW DELHI: Indians who stayed up to watch the sky on Wednesday night were rewarded with spectacular sights of the full moon turning coppery-red and, in many places in the country, disappearing from view during the total phase of the darkest lunar eclipse of the century.

The skies were generally cloudy in most parts, but watchers still caught magical views of the moon coming under Earth's shadow from time to time. In the capital, the spectacle was clouded out only around 20 minutes after the eclipse had reached its peak at 1.42am on Thursday. During this darkest phase, the moon gradually faded from view and could be sighted only through telescopes.

While enthusiasts attended moon-watch programmes organized by astronomy groups in most cities, some had set up eclipse parties on terraces of their homes to watch the celestial shadow show with friends and family.

A group of around 35 people gathered at the terrace of SPACE Foundation's office in west Delhi for a feast-cum-eclipse watch. The 'Chand ka Langar — Feast in the Shadow of the Eclipse' was arranged by the NGO that works to popularize science, to break myths about not having food during an eclipse.

Elsewhere in the capital, people gathered at the Teen Murti lawns to take part in various astronomical activities as part of a 'Moon Carnival' organized by the Nehru Planetarium, Vigyan Prasar and other organizations.

Some chose to travel to more exotic and darker locales to catch a better view. A handful of enthusiasts, watching the event through big telescopes from a village near Ranikhet in the Uttarakhand hills, described the sight as breathtaking. "During the eclipse peak, we observed that the centre of the lunar disc was darker than the edges. It was simply ethereal," said astro-photographer Ajay Talwar, who had organized the event.

Meanwhile, the doors of the four most popular shrines of Uttarakhand — at Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamnotri — remained shut during the eclipse in keeping with tradition. Devotees took holy dips in major rivers across the country.

Braving heavy downpour, tens of thousands witnessed Lord Jagannath's ceremonial bathing ritual at Puri. The 'devasnan' is held on the full moon day of the Oriya month of Jestha and a special set of rituals was performed this time for the lunar eclipse.

The total phase of the eclipse lasted 100 minutes, from 12.52am to 2.32am. The last lunar eclipse to exceed this duration was in July 2000. People living in South America, eastern Africa, the Middle East, central Asia and western Australia were also able to watch the entire eclipse.

Astar named 51 Ophiuchi was also occulted during the eclipse, with the Moon hiding the star at 11.29pm.

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