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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clouds Blot Out Moscow Eclipse




The world did not end and the Mir space station did not fall from the skies and destroy Paris as predicted by fashion designer Paco Rabanne. Instead, the Aug. 11 solar eclipse provided a good show for those who managed to be in viewing range and were lucky enough to have clear skies overhead.


Millions gathered Wednesday along the 110-kilometer-wide path that swept across Earth's surface - the optimal viewing range from which to see the last eclipse of the millennium. Beginning just off the eastern coast of Canada, the path cut through Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Romania and Bulgaria on its way to Asia.


Donning their special eclipse-viewing glasses, giant crowds stormed the streets of Europe's major cities Wednesday afternoon to witness some two minutes of nearly total darkness.


While Moscow did not fall in the path of the eclipse, 60 percent of the sun's surface was covered by the moon at 3:10 p.m. However, rain clouds prevented anyone from glimpsing the phenomenon. Even the city's astronomers were foiled by the weather. Scientists eager to get a better view of the eclipse gathered at the Moscow observatory. But at 1:58 p.m., when the eclipse was set to begin in Moscow, they closed up the solar telescope to prevent it from getting wet.


However, Wednesday's rain clouds, while disappointing, were no set back to science, said Professor Boris Somov, head of Moscow State University's solar physics department.


"It would be nice to see how the shadow enters the sun's disk," Somov said, adding that a few minutes of viewing would not allow scientists to do more than verify existing knowledge.


What would be really exciting, Somov said, would be to follow the moon's shadow - which travels at a little over 2,000 kilometers per hour - in a Concord jet. A viewing station traveling faster than the speed of sound would allow a view of the solar crown for some three hours, as opposed to the two-minute glimpses one gets on Earth.


"Then there could really be some interesting observations made," Somov said.


Instead, due to budgetary restraints, only a few of Somov's colleagues actually got to see the eclipse. Some shelled out their own money for the two-day bus trip from Moscow to Bucharest, where the moon covered the sun for 2 minutes and 23 seconds.


Touted as the last eclipse of the millennium, this eclipse was also the subject of gloomy predictions about the end of the world.


Somov just smiles at these forecasts.


"There were some 6,000 full and partial eclipses in the last 2,000 years alone," Somov said. "It is OK for animals to be frightened of eclipses because they simply do not understand the nature of the event. But we are not exactly birds whose hunting for insects has suddenly been interrupted by darkness.


"The only objective danger I know of is a risk for the eyes," he added.


There was little risk of damaging eyesight in Moscow, where the best views of the eclipse came from the television screen. NTV attempted to provide live coverage of the event from Romania, but technical difficulties prevented the station from showing much of the eclipse.


Perhaps the best place to view the eclipse was the Mir space station, which defied doomsday fears spread by Paco Rabanne - based on the predictions of 16th-century mystic Nostradamus - by remaining in orbit and not crashing into Paris.


The three cosmonauts aboard the station - the last scheduled crew of the 13-year-old Mir - filmed the moon's 110-kilometer-wide shadow travelling across the globe at supersonic speed.


"No one has ever seen this before from space," said Viktor Blagov, from Russia's flight control.