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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
South America witnesses eclipse
Annular eclipse (University of North Dakota)
The eclipse was viewed from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana
Skywatchers in the north of South America have seen an annular eclipse.

In such an event, the position of the Moon relative to the Earth means the Sun is never completely covered up - as it is in a total solar eclipse.

Nonetheless, those standing in the right place on Earth will have seen the spectacular sight of a "ring of fire" running around the Moon's edge.

Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana were best set to view the eclipse which tracked largely over the Atlantic.

A far wider region of South America, the eastern Caribbean, western Africa, and Antarctica witnessed a partial eclipse.

Moveable feast

The event began in Guyana at 0948 GMT and swept east. The eclipse lasted three hours and 40 minutes in total.

The eclipse was a bull's-eye
Dr Timothy Young, University of North Dakota
The moment of greatest eclipse occurred out in the South Atlantic at 1140 GMT, and the eclipse ended at 1331 GMT, having almost touched the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.

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%.

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

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.

Rocket vista

Dr Timothy Young, from the University of North Dakota, US, organised an educational webcast of the eclipse from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

He and colleague Dr Ron Marsh were joined by several hundred school children at the space centre.

"The eclipse was a bull's-eye, the moon was centred right in the middle of the Sun," Dr Young told the BBC News website.

"The event was truly remarkable, clear skies and help from the space centre made it successful. The Sun rose at 6:20 AM, French Guiana time, with the Sun at about 50% eclipsed. Thirty minutes later, the Moon was directly in the centre of the sun.

"The webcast attracted about 5,000 viewers during the five-minute and 30-second annularity."

A still image taken by Young and Marsh is featured at the top of this page.

The next total eclipse will be visible on 1 August, 2008, running from the Canadian Arctic, through Russia, to China.


SEE ALSO
World marvels at total eclipse
29 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
When solar fears eclipse reason
28 Mar 06 |  Science/Nature
Moon's shadow moves across Earth
03 Oct 05 |  Science/Nature

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