Solar eclipse: mind-bending phenomenon

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Tatyana Sinitsyna) - A solar eclipse will take place on August 1. Repeating itself in a certain rhythm since time immemorial, this dazzling spectacle is played out for different parts of the earth at different times.

This time, Russians living in Western Siberia and Altai have been lucky enough to get a free ticket to this amazing show.

From a spaceship, a lunar shadow looks like a dark spot sliding across the Earth at a speed of 2,000 km (1,200 miles) per hour. Although we all know about this phenomenon from school, it is a real treat to see one.

A full solar eclipse is a magical event that changes our routine life. It looks as if the sun has covered its golden face with a solid black veil, leaving only a very thin mother-of-pearl halo, the solar corona. Day turns into night, bringing out the stars. Nature is shocked. Plants stand stock-still, animals rush around creating a cacophony of sounds, and birds start screaming. People's thoughts freeze. Thousands of filtered eyes are turned to the sky in anticipation of Nature's sacral show. Some pray, others make wishes, while still others fall down in atavistic fear.

Scientists have long figured out this astronomical phenomenon. The Sun is almost 400 times further from the Earth than the Moon, but that distance means that their disks (viewed from the earth) have almost the same diameter. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun so that the latter is wholly or partially obscured.

Tomorrow the Moon's shadow will cover its main distance in two hours, crossing the territory of northern Canada, Western Siberia, Altai, Mongolia, and China. Residents of those areas will be able to see a full solar eclipse in a narrow corridor no more than 90 km (55 miles) across. A partial eclipse will have a much broader path. Altogether, the eclipse will last for 4 hours and 34 minutes.

The eclipse starts at 08:04:06 UT in North America. At 09:21:07, the Moon's umbra (the area of total shadow) will first touch the Earth over northern Canada's Queen Maud Gulf. It will last for one minute and a half. It will then cross Greenland, the Arctic Ocean, Franz Joseph Land, and Novaya Zemlya. Having passed the Kara Sea, it will move to Eurasia, and traverse Western Siberia and the Yamal Peninsular.

Nadym, a 50,000-strong city of gas workers in the Tyumen Region, will have the longest view of the eclipse - 2 minutes and 28 seconds. Gathering pace, the lunar shadow will rush to the south and reach Novosibirsk at 04:40 p.m. (local time). This megalopolis of more than 3 million is a major industrial, scientific, and cultural center. It has been dubbed the "capital of the solar eclipse" and is on the list of recommended attractions for 2008, on a par with Beijing, which hosts the Olympics.

Lasting for 2 minutes and 18 seconds, the eclipse will reach its peak in Novosibirsk.

Numerous tourists and scientists have arrived in Novosibirsk to watch the eclipse. They are primarily interested in the Sun's corona, which reaches several million degrees as compared with about 6,000 degrees Celsius in the Sun itself. Scientists have not yet explained why.

Instruments on board space stations are watching the Sun's corona round the clock. Dr. Alexander Bagrov of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Astronomy explained: "We are studying the internal border of the cloud known as zodiac light with the help of special telescopes installed in Novosibirsk. This cloud is stretched out, diluted, and difficult to watch. During an eclipse, the glowing corona can be seen at a distance of four to five radiuses from it, but only in infrared light. Astronomers will try to make as many measurements as possible during the brief moments of the eclipse."

Barnaul and Gornoaltaisk will be the last major cities on the eclipse's route across Russia. It will then cross the border and move toward Mongolia and China. The residents of Jiuquan will see it last at sunset. The shadow will finally slip away at 11:21:26 UT. People in India, the Arabian Peninsula, and South-East Asia will be able to watch a partial eclipse.

Since ancient times, solar and lunar eclipses have been considered signs of the gods. Pagan believers saw them as the desire of evil forces to destroy the sun, the world's ultimate source of life; in the Indian view, the sun was devoured by snakes; the Filipinos thought that a bird with steel claws and beak was encroaching on the sun, while the Caucasian people accused the devils of trying to steal the "divine fire."

Ancient Slavs also thought that evil forces, witches and devils were after the sun. The ancient Chinese called it "a temporary victory of Yin (moon) over Yang (sun)." In the Russian Orthodox view, solar eclipses occur for repentance and catharsis. The most important solar eclipse in the history of civilization is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke: "...and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured...."

What is said about the impact of a solar eclipse on human life today? Doctors believe that it is perfectly harmless. However, there is convincing evidence that weather-sensitive people experience higher blood pressure and nervousness during an eclipse. Statistics show that the number of accidents and man-made disasters increases during eclipses. For instance, during a solar eclipse in the south of Russia on March 29, 2006, massive disruptions of cellular communication were registered in Krasnodar.

French scientist Maurice Allais found that a pendulum swung faster during a solar eclipse. This phenomenon came to be known as the Allais Effect, but has not been fully explained to this day.

Russian astrophysicist Nikolai Kozyrev, an employee of the Pulkovo Observatory near St. Petersburg, maintained that time, one of the fundamental properties of the world, transforms and lasts longer than usual during a solar eclipse. Regrettably, he did not develop his theory further.

What if time does indeed last longer, and this explains the Allais Effect? In ancient times, people said that everything influences everything else. However, it is difficult to see the connection between different phenomena, especially if they come from beyond our world. This is probably why we find solar eclipses so mind-bending.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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