For ‘Ring of Fire’ watchers, it’s chance of a lifetime

By Richa Sharma, IANS,

On Board Eclipse Cruise Ship: As Aquamarine, India’s first eclipse cruise ship, sails towards the Maldives, the chatter among about 950 people on board is geared towards the keenly anticipated view of the millennium’s longest annular solar eclipse Friday.

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The cruise ship left for Male from Kochi Jan 13 to chase the ‘Ring of Fire’ that will be visible best in the capital city of Maldives. Male is along the centre annular eclipse line, and will offer an optimal view as the sun there will be oscured the maximum at about 93 percent.

The eclipse starts in the Maldives at 10:15 a.m. (10:45 IST) and peaks at 12:20 p.m. (12:50 IST) before ending at 1:40 p.m. (14:10 IST).

“I have especially come with my two children to watch the eclipse. I don’t know much about solar eclipse and this was the opportunity to know it. After watching the eclipse, we will visit the city and other small islands,” Mansi Singh, a resident of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, told an IANS correspondent abroad the ship.

Mansi’s eight-year-old son has already bought solar goggles to watch the eclipse.

“I have studied in my books about stars, the Sun and the Moon, and now I am excited about seeing them from a giant ship,” said an excited Rishi Singh, a Class 3 student.

A science communication organisation SPACE (Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators) has tied up with Louis Cruises India to run the luxury vessel from Kochi to the Maldives, carrying eclipse chasers looking forward to seeing the ‘Ring of Fire’ when the sun’s disc will be covered by the passing moon.

People interested in watching the eclipse from the cruise have paid something between Rs.17,000 to Rs.50,000 for the four-day three-night trip.

“I was thrilled when I heard about the eclipse cruise and decided to get on board with my friends. Nothing can be more beautiful than chasing the eclipse on board a vessel from the island-nation,” said Bhambi Shah, a businessman from Gujarat.

Many others on board the Aquamarine also did not know about the solar eclipse, and came just for having fun during Pongal vacations.

“I came to know about solar eclipse during a workshop here Tuesday. I had no clue about it. I got excited about it and decided to stay back for the initial phase of the eclipse Friday morning. I can’t watch the ‘Ring of Fire’ as I have already booked a ticket for city excursion in the afternoon,” said Jigna Umand, a resident of Bangalore.

SPACE is charging Rs.1,000 per person for the eclipse watch and 50 people have registered with them. During the eclipse, the ship will be docked in Male port and telescopes will be put out on deck for people to watch the celestial activity.

“An eclipse watch will be organised Jan 15, to show passengers safe ways to view and photograph the eclipse. Guests on the eclipse cruise will be able to watch the ‘Ring of Fire’ for longest 10 minutes 46 seconds. The cruise will be back in Kochi Jan 16,” said Amit Verma, who works with SPACE.

A ‘star party’ was organised Wednesday night, offering guided observations of constellations and deep-sky objects and showing the navigational tricks of ancient mariners.

According to Louis Cruises, tying up with SPACE for eclipse has increased the number of bookings.

“Of the 950 guests, I think 200 to 300 booked the tickets now to watch the eclipse, besides sight-seeing. It;s a good opportunity and we are really excited about it,” said Yogesh Gupta, general manager, corporate affairs, Louis Cruises India.

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 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 next longest annular solar eclipse will be seen in 3043.

(Richa Sharma can be contacted at [email protected](