'Ring of fire' eclipse thrills African, South American stargazers

This combination of photos shows the eclipse as seen from the Estancia El Muster, near Sarmiento, Argentina. At the height of the eclipse, the Moon is in the middle of the Sun, leaving a perfect ring of light around the edge.
This combination of photos shows the eclipse as seen from the Estancia El Muster, near Sarmiento, Argentina. At the height of the eclipse, the Moon is in the middle of the Sun, leaving a perfect ring of light around the edge.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SARMIENTO (Argentina) • Stargazers applauded as they were plunged into darkness on Sunday when the Moon passed in front of the Sun in a spectacular "ring of fire" eclipse.

Astronomers and enthusiasts in Argentina were among the first to see the so-called annular eclipse as it crossed South America shortly after 1200 GMT, on course for Africa.

Staring up through special telescopes, protective glasses or home-made cardboard pinhole devices, they watched the Sun all but disappear briefly as the Moon crossed its path.

The eclipse was most visible in a 100km band across Chile, Argentina, Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Around 300 stargazers gathered in a remote spot near the southern city of Sarmiento, the point in Argentina where the eclipse left just a bright ring in the dark sky.

The spectacle passed on to Angola south of the town of Benguela, then Zambia and Democratic Republic Congo just before the Sun set.

"It's the first time that I've witnessed this phenomenon - I'm completely happy," said Ms Providencia Luzolo in Angola's capital, Luanda, adding, "... I didn't manage to see it that well as it hurt my eyes."

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Earth, Moon and Sun line up. But even when perfectly aligned, the Moon is too far from Earth to completely block out the Sun, creating instead the impression of a fiery ring.

Locals in the province of Chubut, around Sarmiento, said they noted changes in the height of the tide and animals acting unusually. Experts say that as the day darkens, birds and animals enter a night-time routine, thinking sunset is nigh.

At the height of the eclipse, the Moon is right in the middle of the Sun, leaving a perfect ring of light around the edge. It takes about two hours for the Moon to move across the face of the Sun, but the "ring of fire" peak lasts a mere minute.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2017, with the headline ''Ring of fire' eclipse thrills African, South American stargazers'. Print Edition | Subscribe