Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Solar Eclipse: 21 July 2009

I think Lovecraft would first be thrilled at our ability to see astronomical events, appalled that superstition still reigns, and would find some way to admix these two world views into a weird story of some sort. He often did. One can here him "tsk" at the "grandmothers" and their "superstitions".

TAREGNA, India – The longest solar eclipse of the 21st century created near darkness soon after dawn in a swath of India stretching from the west coast to the northern plains where millions gathered in the open to watch.

But millions more shuttered themselves in, gripped by fearful myths in a country that abounds in Hindu mythology-based superstitions and fables, one of which says an eclipse is caused when a dragon-demon swallows the sun.

At its peak, the eclipse lasted 6 minutes and 39 seconds in other parts of Asia.

It is the longest such eclipse since July 11, 1991, when a total eclipse lasting 6 minutes, 53 seconds was visible from Hawaii to South America. There will not be a longer eclipse than Wednesday's until 2132.

But millions across India were shunning the sight and planned to stay indoors.

Even in regions where the eclipse was not visible, pregnant women were advised to stay indoors in curtained rooms over a belief that the sun's invisible rays would harm the fetus and the baby would be born with disfigurations, birthmarks or a congenital defect.

Krati Jain, a software professional in New Delhi, said she planned to take a day off from work Wednesday to avoid what she called "any ill effects of the eclipse on my baby."

"My mother and aunts have called and told me stay in a darkened room with the curtains closed, lie in bed and chant prayers," said Jain, 24, who is expecting her first child.

In the northern Indian state of Punjab, authorities ordered schools to begin an hour late to prevent children from venturing out and gazing at the sun.

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