Male, Jan 15 (IANS) It was a breathtaking experience for the 950 eclipse chasers onboard Aquamarine, India's first eclipse cruise, as the moon covered the sun's disc making a 'Ring of Fire' in the sky - the millennium's longest annular solar eclipse Friday.
The island nation of Maldives provided the best view of the celestial event.
People from the age group 4 to 70 held solar goggles to their eyes or had their cameras pointed skyward on the Sun deck of the cruise ship since 9.30 a.m. to get a clear view of the event.
The eclipse started in the Maldives at 10.15 a.m. (10.45 IST), but soon thick clouds obscured the view, making people apprehensive if they would get to see the celestial event at all.
However, to everyone's immense relief, just at the eclipse peak time of 12.20 p.m. (12.50 IST), the sun peeped from behind the clouds and finally came out - providing an excellent view of the 'Ring of Fire', and brought smiles to the faces of almost everyone onboard the vessel.
Maldives witnessed the phenomenon for a maximum of 10 minutes 46 seconds. The eclipse ended at 1.40 p.m. (14:10 IST).
For the people on the cruise vessel, it was a fantastic opportunity to watch the eclipse while docked in the Maldivian sea.
'The sun looked like a moon in the sky - changing its shape from crescent to forming a ring. I loved it and nothing can be better than this. It was the first time I am watching an eclipse and I never knew it could be so beautiful,' Rishika Smera, a Class 2 student from Gujarat, told IANS.
An annular solar eclipse occurs when the sun and moon are exactly in line, and the moon covers the disc of the sun. The rays of the sun then appear from behind the darkened moon, like a 'Ring of Fire'.
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.
'It was breathtaking. I am one of the few lucky ones who watched the longest view of the eclipse. It's so thrilling to even think about Maldives, the cruise, the beach and a solar eclipse,' said an excited Varshini Babu, a Class 8 student from Chennai.
The luxury vessel carrying eclipse chasers from Kochi to the Maldives, was organised by a science communication organisation, SPACE (Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators), which tied up with Louis Cruises India.
Three telescopes, binoculars and projection methods were set up on the deck for people to watch the eclipse.
Many people who had booked the sightseeing for Friday did not forget to carry their solar goggles with them.
'I was not on the ship but we watched the eclipse from Chayya island using solar goggles. It was looking beautiful and I was disappointed when initially the clouds began covering the sky, but soon the sun was out,' said M. Ramesh, a businessman from Bangalore.
For SPACE scientists it was an important phenomenon as they captured the image of the 'Ring of Fire' and Bailey's Bead - the thin slice of the sun visible near the beginning and end of total solar eclipse as beads of light.
'We did eclipse photography and visual observations of the Bailey's Beads,' said Amit Verma, SPACE chief executive officer.
People cheered when the sun came out completely from the moon's shadow at the end of the eclipse. Sweets were distributed to make people shed their superstition of not eating during an eclipse.
Those who booked the cruise paid around Rs.17,000 to Rs.50,000 for the four-day three-night trip.