Cloud cover fails to take shine off annular eclipse

This was how yesterday's partial eclipse of the sun looked from London's Trafalgar Square as the clouds parted above Nelson's Column right at the end of the two-hour event.

A brief glimpse was all that onlookers in the capital got - but at least it was something. Earlier, amateur astronomers had been cursing their luck as overcast skies wrecked their view.

A dozen members of the Society for Popular Astronomy had eagerly set up telescopes in Hyde Park at breakfast time and, without cloud cover, they would have seen the moon covering about 57per cent of the solar disk, the maximum extent reached yesterday, at 10.01am. But the clouds stubbornly refused to shift until after 11am, when the eclipse was only a few minutes from its end.

That, however, was enough to provoke excitement, as the moon's crossing of the sun was clearly visible. Frank Tobin, who has travelled as far afield as Zimbabwe to see eclipses, said he was satisfied, despite the problematic weather. "It's typical that the sun only comes out with a few minutes left. But I'm happy with that," he said.

It was very different in Spain, which lay along the centre of the eclipse's track across the earth, where cloudless skies afforded watchers a perfect view.

Thousands of people gathered in Madrid, judged the best place to see yesterday's event, and other towns and cities to see an unusual and spectacular version of a partial eclipse - a so-called annular eclipse, which occurs when the whole of the moon's disc is visible against the sun.

In Madrid, families, teenagers with teachers and groups of enthusiasts met at the city's planetarium and donned protective glasses to watch the event directly, or via a giant television screen. "It was a beautiful sight. I won't see one again," said Isabel Balset, 68. "I got very emotional and the tears just flowed."

The Iberian peninsula has not witnessed an annular eclipse since 1 April, 1764, and will not see another one until 2028. The last total eclipse seen in Iberia was in 1912.

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