Thousands watch eclipse in Russia

A shadow swept across Russia today, delighting skywatchers who flocked to Siberia from around the world to see a rare total eclipse of the sun.

The stellar spectacle - when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth - began in Canada, tracked across Greenland and crept into Siberia just after 1000 GMT.

It is due to end in China where some see it as a dark omen ahead of the start of the Olympic Games in Beijing next week.

In Novosibirsk, which lies directly under its path, thousands of people, some from Canada and the United States, mixed awe with excitement as day turned into night.

All gazed in wonder as an eerie silence descended on the Siberian city and gushes of unusually strong wind tore through the crowd of skywatchers. Birds stopped chirping and the temperature suddenly dropped, a Reuters TV reporter there said.

In Moscow, which saw a partial eclipse, passers-by froze as they tried to catch at a glimpse of the phenomenon.

In the second city of Petersburg, people shouted "Look! Look!" and pointed above as the sun's outer corona appeared in the sky.

"You just feel part of nature. ... This is so rare," said Lev, a software specialist in St Petersburg. Many used special sunglasses, computer disks and even beer bottles to watch it.

In the remote Siberian settlement of Berezovaya Katun near Russia's border with China, a large crowd of tourists, including some from France and Mongolia, clapped and cheered as organisers released thousands of balloons into the darkened sky.

"It is quite eerie for any thinking person to watch how everything turns into darkness in broad daylight," the Kremlin's top medical adviser, Gennady Onishchenko, told Vesti channel.

In China, where the eclipse will end, plane loads of foreign eclipse watchers converged on Jiayuguan, in Gansu Province, and in the hot deserts of Xinjiang, to watch the sky go dark.

"I've come all the way from California for this. It's going to be my 11th eclipse, I try to see them all," said Dave Balch, a cancer care adviser wearing an eclipse T-shirt.

"It's very dramatic and awe-inspiring when the darkness suddenly comes. That's why thousands of tourists go to see," said Jay Pasachoff, a professor at Williams College who travelled to Novosibirsk, Russia, for his 47th eclipse.

People still find their lives can be touched by eclipses, but the modern view is a little more philosophic.

"I was born during an eclipse, and I have always felt that's made my life more fortunate," said a driver named Zhou. "But I didn't turn out to have any special genius, so I can't say the eclipse left any mark of fate or destiny on me."