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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 11:33 GMT 12:33 UK
Moon's shadow moves across Earth
Across the globe, people looked for the "ring of fire"

Millions of people across the globe looked skyward on Monday to catch a glimpse of the Moon eclipsing the Sun.

The annular eclipse, as it is known, cast a dark shadow over much of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

An annular event is less spectacular than a total solar eclipse because the sky does not go completely black.

Nonetheless, skywatchers with cloudless weather saw a "ring of fire" surround the Moon's disc. Sudan enjoyed the period of greatest eclipse at 1031 GMT.

In and out

One of the best places to view the event was in the Spanish capital, Madrid, where thousands came out on to the streets.

Many went to the city's planetarium to view the ring through special eclipse glasses.

Further north and south of the darkest path, a partial eclipse was seen, with the Moon observed to take a large chunk out of the Sun.

In London, UK, this partial eclipse started at 0848 BST (0748 GMT) and ended at 1118 BST (1018 GMT).

How does an annular eclipse differ from a total solar eclipse?

Not every eclipse can be total. The Moon's orbit around the Earth is not perfectly round; the satellite's distance from the planet varies from about 356,000 to 407,000km (221,000 to 253,000 miles).

This difference makes the Moon's apparent size in our sky fluctuate by about 13%.

If the Moon happens to eclipse the Sun on the near side of its orbit, it totally blocks out the star (a total eclipse).

But if the Moon eclipses the Sun on the far side of its orbit, the satellite will not completely obscure the star's disc - and a ring or annulus of sunlight is seen.

"People will have seen the Sun turn into a blazing ring of fire as though the centre of the Sun was consumed by a black hole. It's like something out of Lord of the Rings," said Ian Ridpath, from the UK's Royal Astronomical Society.

"The Moon is very slowly moving away from the Earth and so in the distant future, this will be the only type of eclipse we will be able to see," he told BBC News.

The effect of an annular eclipse is to throw an "antumbra", or "negative shadow", on the Earth's surface as the Moon moves across the face of the Sun.

It is the track of this antumbra that is referred to as the path of annularity.

The shadow touched down in the North Atlantic at 0841 GMT. Its snake-like route took it across the Iberian Peninsula, the western Mediterranean and on to the African continent, arriving at Algiers at 0905 GMT.

From there, the path followed a south-eastern route, through southern Tunisia and central Libya.

David Aspinall sent in this photo from Granada, Spain
David Aspinall sent us this photo. You can send pictures and video of the solar eclipse to: yourpics@bbc.co.uk

After briefly skirting northern Chad, the antumbra swept across central Sudan, where the period of greatest eclipse was experienced, lasting four minutes and 31 seconds.

The path then headed along the southern Sudanese-Ethiopian border before entering Kenya and Somalia. It left land at 1130 GMT and only a ship in the Indian Ocean would have experienced the end of the eclipse at 1222 GMT.

Those lucky enough to be in the path of annularity looked for the "beads" or "gems" that are often seen to skirt the fiery ring.

These are caused by sunlight streaming through valleys and past mountains on the Moon's surface.

This has been the fourth annular eclipse of the 21st century. The next total solar eclipse is on 29 March, 2006. It will traverse equatorial West Africa, the Sahara, the western Mediterranean, Turkey and Russia.

If you took pictures of the eclipse, you can send them to us at yourpics@bbc.co.uk

Your pictures of the solar eclipse
03 Oct 05 |  In Pictures
Antarctic witnesses total eclipse
24 Nov 03 |  Science/Nature
Skywatchers see 'ring of fire'
31 May 03 |  Science/Nature
Millions wonder at southern eclipse
04 Dec 02 |  Science/Nature


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