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The Aftermath of June 21 ‘Ring of Fire’ Solar Eclipse Across Africa

On June 21, people around the world witnessed the spectacle of this year’s exceptional annular eclipse.

Reports from the corners of Africa and across the globe reveal to what degrees the effects of the rare phenomenon covered the spaces across the continents

Sunday's eclipse arrives on the summer solstice, the northern hemisphere's longest day of the year.
Sunday’s eclipse arrives on the summer solstice, the northern hemisphere’s longest day of the year. [Photo credit: Aljazeera]

On June 15, a group of space experts under the aegis of the African Astronomical Society (AfAs) had tipped off space enthusiasts of the imminent annual occurrence. According to the release by the group, the moon’s pathway would be around 60km wide and the visibility would cut across countries like The Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan as well Ethiopia and Eritrea in Africa. The statement further revealed that the annular occurrence would as well be visible in some Eastern part of the globe, with significant experience in countries like India, Pakistan and China.

However, reports emerging have shown many enthusiasts who, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, devised a means to behold the spectacle. Unfortunately, as a result of gloomy weather conditions as expected in the tropical African regions and other parts of the earth, some could not take a glimpse of the eclipse.

The Republic of Congo was said to have the most significant experience of the “ring of fire” solar eclipse in Africa as it was first visible in the northeastern part of the country from 5:56 am local time (04:56 GMT) just a few minutes after sunrise.

According to a report, the Congolese experience is considered the point of maximum duration, as the effect manifested in a partial blackout lasting 1 minute and 22 seconds. 

The astronomical phenomenon then moved eastwards across Africa and Asia before metamorphosing to a maximum eclipse — a perfect solar halo around the Moon — in the southern and northern part of Asia. It was observed in Uttarakhand, India near the border with China at 12:10 local time (06:40 UTC). The exact alignment of the Earth, moon and the sun was also visible for 38 seconds in this part of the globe.

College indicating how eclipse travelled in New Delhi India
College indicating how eclipse travelled in New Delhi India. [Photo credit: Space]

The eclipse journeyed soon after sunrise to central Africa, passing through the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), South Sudan and Ethiopia before heading to Asia, to finish in the Pacific Ocean, south of the island of Guam, at 09:32 GMT, after having notably crossed India and China. In this type of eclipse, the moon passes in front of the sun, in alignment with the earth, but instead of completely blocking the sun, there remains a ring, called “ring of fire.”

In Ethiopia, it began with the donation of solar eclipse sunshades by a non-for-profit group known as Astronomers Without Borders. The group donated 16,000 recycled eclipse glasses, providing skywatchers with a safe way to watch the moon cross in front of the sun.

Astronomers Without Borders vetted thousands of pairs of eclipse glasses to ensure their safety before donating them for an upcoming solar eclipse. [Photo credit: Astronomers Without Borders]

The full eclipse became visible to the people of Ethiopia early in the morning as the first picture surfaced on the internet around 7:26 am, India early in the morning by 10 am, and Pakistan early around 8:46 am. While the scenery was last observed in parts of China around 8:32 am.

Clouds Frustrate Views in Some Parts

Reports have it that several could not fully appreciate the interference of the solar systems, including Nairobi. In the east African country, observers were a bit disappointed as they could only see a partial eclipse as clouds spoiled the eclipse for those watching. The unprecedented cloud blocked the sky view for several seconds at the exact moment the moon should have almost hidden the sun.

For some curious in the capital city of Nairobi, a cloudy sky at the exact moment the moon hid the sun, this meant that witnesses were only able to behold a partial eclipse.

People observe an annular solar eclipse with special goggles in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on June 21, 2020. [Image credit: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images]

For hundreds of kilometres on either side of the eclipse’s path in Nairobi, people experienced daylight grow dimmer, but could not see the ring of fire. Solar eclipses occur around two weeks before or after lunar eclipses when the moon moves into the shadow of the Earth.

The Kenyan situation reflects the fears of astronomy experts on the inability of people to observe the eclipse due to weather conditions. “Good weather is the key to successful eclipse viewing,” astrophysicist Fred Espenak, an expert on eclipse prediction, commented on the NASA Eclipse website. “Better to see a shorter eclipse from (the) clear sky than a longer eclipse under clouds,” Espenak reportedly said.

Despite everything, “It was very exciting because I am obsessed with eclipses,” Susan Murabana, founder — with her husband, Chu — of the educational program, Traveling telescope, told AFP. 

People watch an annular solar eclipse in Banda Aceh in Indonesia on June 21, 2020. [Photo credit: Riska Munawarah/AFP via Getty Images]

In the Gulf countries, the observation of the phenomenon was also frustrated by the unprecedented humidity alongside the dust of the summer heat. In Sri Lanka, also because of COVID-19, the planetarium was closed to avoid gatherings. Only about 15 students gathered around a telescope at the University of Colombo, the capital, broadcasting the images of the eclipse live on Facebook, another report claims.

The full eclipse in the epicentres of its path was visible for a period of almost four hours at successive locations. 

The Guardian reports that this solar event coincides with the northern hemisphere’s longest day of the year, the summer solstice when Earth’s north pole is tilted most directly toward the sun. The effect of this was the bit delay in the turning of day to night on Sunday. Taiwan was the last location to see the partially hidden sun before the eclipse ended over the Pacific Ocean.

A map of the solar eclipse on June 21, 2020. [Photo credit: Fred Espenak/NASA]

Only 2% of the earth’s surface was affected by the total phase of the eclipse.

Another solar eclipse will happen on December 14 over South America. This time the moon will be closer to the earth and will block out the sun’s light completely.

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