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Monday, 25 December, 2000, 22:06 GMT
Christmas eclipsed in North America
Solar eclipse in West Virginia AP
Partial eclipse: Merry Christmas Central and North America
North and Central Americans have had their Christmas enlivened by a dramatic event: a partial solar eclipse.

As you move further to the east and further to the north, the eclipse becomes more dramatic

Astronomer Simon Mitton
The Moon passed across the Sun, covering as much as 70% of the solar disc when viewed from remote Arctic areas of Canada.

But the partial eclipse was visible over a much wider area, in all but Alaska and western Canada and as far south as Honduras and El Salvador.

It was visible during the early morning in the south-west, late morning or midday in the centre of the continent, and in the early afternoon on the east coast.

Not until 2307

The further north you lived, the greater a dent the Moon appeared to make on the Sun's face as it passed between the star and the Earth.

Tower in Davenport, Iowa AP
Clouds got in the way in parts of the US Midwest
The best view was said to be from Canada's Baffin Island, where 72% of the Sun was obscured just after midday local time. New England and the upper Midwest of the United States also had good views.

In Montreal, around 500 people braved sub-zero temperatures to view the eclipse with astronomers at the city planetarium. But people in Mexico City, at the southern edge of the viewing area, saw just a slight sliver of the Sun disappear for an hour around midday.

The last Christmas solar eclipse happened in 1954, and astronomers say that there will not be another until 2307.

African eclipse

While this solar eclipse was only visible in North America, a total eclipse of the Moon will take place on 9 January and that will be seen in Europe, most of Africa, and all of Asia.

Watcher in Rock Island, Illinois AP
People watched the eclipse through special sunglasses
And UK astronomy expert Simon Mitton says the Southern Hemisphere will get a solar eclipse of its own next year on Midwinter's Day, 21 June.

"There will be a beautiful total eclipse of the Sun which will be visible in southern Africa," he says.

"The eclipse track goes all the way from the coast of Angola right out to Madagascar. The best countries for actually viewing this eclipse will be Zimbabwe and Zambia.

"And if there are excellent viewing conditions, which I think is quite likely, then viewers will be able to see the Sun's outer atmosphere or corona - and it's one of the most amazing astronomical events that I've ever experienced."

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