Ignore superstitions, watch solar eclipse with proper gear


New Delhi : As the world looks forward to the millennium’s longest annular solar eclipse Friday, there are superstitions galore in India. But science experts have urged people to shed “false beliefs” and watch the celestial spectacle the right way.

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“People have various false beliefs regarding solar eclipse. Some think that during eclipse ‘bad rays’ come to earth and they lock themselves up in their homes to avoid it. This is really rubbish and people should shed such superstitions,” Nehru Planetarium director N. Rathnashree told IANS.

The solar eclipse this time falls on the second holy bathing day of the Maha Kumbh in Hardwar and a large number of people are expected to throng the holy city with a belief to cleanse themselves after the eclipse.

Some people avoid cooking and eating during the eclipse. There are others who believe that pregnant women should refrain from sewing during the eclipse as it can lead to deformities in the foetus.

“We don’t eat or cook during an eclipse and the food cooked earlier is discarded as the number of germs increases during the eclipse,” said Rachna Singh, a homemaker.

Rathnashree stressed that there is no cause for fear during an eclipse but people should take precautions while viewing the phenomenon.

“The annular solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a very interesting activity. It should be watched under the supervision of experts with proper gadgets. I am flooded with calls and e-mails from people who want to know the impact of solar eclipse on them,” she said.

But in the past few years, many people have overcome their fears and come out in large number to watch such celestial events.

“Believe me people are so excited about the eclipse that they are ready to travel several kilometres from here to have a better view of the eclipse and we are taking people to different locations,” Sachin Bhamba, astronomer with the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE), told IANS.

SPACE, a Delhi-based organisation working to make science and astronomy popular among youngsters, is taking people to Varkala in Kerala and country’s first eclipse cruise to Maldives to get a clear view of the eclipse.

In India, the eclipse will start around 11 a.m. and end around 3.15 p.m. The eclipse will first be seen in the south of Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu and then move to Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi. It will also pass through Mizoram in the northeast.

Delhi will see a partial solar eclipse.

“It is very important to emphasise that viewing the eclipse with the naked eye would be very dangerous. Viewing the sun through a telescope or a binoculars without a proper filter is many times more dangerous – it could destroy your eyesight,” Rathnashree warned.

According to her, the safest way of viewing a total solar eclipse is through the method of projection.

A pair of binoculars can be used along with a long hardboard box to obtain good projected views of the sun for safe solar viewing, she said.

“By projection method, a pinhole or small opening is used to cast the image of the sun on a screen placed a half-metre or more beyond the opening,” she added.

If you don’t have access to a telescope or binoculars, Rathnashree explained an easy method of using a kitchen sieve with small perforations.

Hold the sieve just above the ground, tilting its face towards the sun. Moving the sieve a little away from the ground, one can see an image of the sun forming, which will show the eclipse when it occurs.

People should also avoid watching solar eclipse using sunglasses, smoked glass, colour film, black-and-white film that contains no silver, or photographic negatives with images on them.

Nehru Planetarium, in collaboration with the Amateur Astronomers Association, Delhi, will be conducting a public sky-watch for the eclipse at the planetarium.

“Our experts will be available to guide people in watching the beautiful event,” Rathnasree said.

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the sun and the moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the moon’s shadow is smaller than the visible disc of the sun. The covered sun, therefore, appears as a ‘Ring of Fire’, with its rays appearing spread out from the outline of the moon.

The last time India saw this Ring of Fire was Nov 22, 1965, and it will not be witnessed again before June 21, 2020. The maximum duration of the eclipse will be 11 minutes, 8 seconds over the Indian Ocean, thus making it the longest annular eclipse of the millennium.