Millions of Asians watch 'ring of fire' eclipse


Millions of Asians watched as a rare “ring of fire” eclipse crossed their skies early today.

The annular eclipse, in which the moon passes in front of the sun leaving only a golden ring around its edges, was visible to wide areas across the continent.

It will move across the Pacific and also be seen in parts of the western United States.

In Japan, "eclipse tours" were arranged at schools and parks, on pleasure boats and even private airplanes.

Similar events were held in China and Taiwan as well, with skywatchers warned to protect their eyes.

The eclipse was broadcast live on TV in Tokyo, where such an eclipse has not been visible since 1839.

Japanese TV crews watched from the top of Mount Fuji and even staked out a zoo south of Tokyo to capture the reaction of the chimpanzees - who did not seem to notice.

A light rain fell on Tokyo as the eclipse began, but the clouds thinned as it reached its peak, providing near perfect conditions.

"It was a very mysterious sight," said Kaori Sasaki, who joined a crowd in Tokyo to watch event. "I've never seen anything like it."

At the Taipei Astronomical Museum in Taiwan, the spectacle emerged from dark clouds for only about 30 seconds. But the view was nearly perfect against Manila's orange skies.

"It's amazing. We do this for the awe (and) it has not disappointed. I am awed, literally floored," said astronomical hobbyist Garry Andreassen, whose long camera lenses were lined up with those of about 10 other gazers in a downtown Manila park.

Hong Kong skywatchers were not so lucky.

Several hundred people gathered along the Kowloon waterfront on Hong Kong's famed Victoria Harbour, most of them students or commuters on their way to work. The eclipse was already under way as the sun began to rise, but heavy clouds obstructed the view.

The eclipse was following a narrow 8,500-mile path for 3 1/2 hours. The ring phenomenon would last about five minutes, depending on location. People outside the narrow band for prime viewing were seeing a partial eclipse.

Ring of Fire eclipses are not as dramatic as a total eclipse, when the disk of the sun is entirely blocked by the moon. The moon is too far from Earth and appears too small in the sky to blot out the sun completely.

Doctors and education officials have warned of eye injuries from improper viewing. Before the event started, Japan's education minister Hirofumi Hirano demonstrated how to use eclipse glasses in a televised news conference.

Police also cautioned against traffic accidents - warning drivers to keep their eyes on the road.