Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Asia darkens under longest solar eclipse of century

A total solar eclipse on Wednesday swept across a narrow swathe of Asia, where hundreds of millions of people watched the skies darken, though in some places thick summer clouds blocked the sun.

The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century cut through the world's most populous nations, India and China, as it travelled half the globe. It was visible along a roughly 250 km-wide (155 miles) corridor, U.S. space agency NASA said.In India, where eclipse superstitions are rife, people snaked through the narrow lanes of the ancient Hindu holy city of Varanasi and gathered for a dip in the Ganges, an act believed to bring release from the cycle of life and death.Amid chanting of Hindu hymns, thousands of men, women and children waded into the river with folded hands and prayed to the sun as it emerged in an overcast sky."We have come here because our elders told us this is the best time to improve our afterlife," said Bhailal Sharma, a villager from central India travelling in a group of about 100.But for one 80-year-old woman the trip was fatal. Police said she died from suffocation in the crowd of hundreds of thousands that had gathered to bathe in the Ganges.The eclipse next swept through Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and over the crowded cities along China's Yangtze River, before heading to the Pacific.In Hindu-majority Nepal, the government declared Wednesday a public holiday and thousands headed for water. 

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