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Astronomy big winner on dark day

THE weather may have cast a shadow over the total solar eclipse in Shanghai yesterday morning, but there was a silver lining.

Astronomers said while the poor view ruined the party for many, the phenomenon raised public awareness of space and science.

Hordes of city people and travelers gathered at People's Square, Xintiandi, on the roofs of high buildings, on Yangshan Island and on their own balconies hoping to see the eclipse.

However, the sun was only glimpsed occasionally amid heavy cloud and it rained before the key eclipse period started.

Thanks to extra driver precaution, reinforced police patrols and forward thinking by city authorities on road lighting and traffic, Shanghai reported 50 percent less car accidents than usual, none of them major.

There was a smooth traffic flow during the eclipse in rush hour.

The city was plunged into darkness between 9:36am and 9:41am in the total phase of the eclipse.

"It is night at day time," said Xu Xiaoping, who works at a scientific institute in Zhangjiang High-tech Park. "It is just so great to experience sudden darkness in the morning."

City astronomers had mixed feelings. "It is a pity for myself and local people to miss seeing the eclipse taking place in our home city," said Tang Haiming, a science promotion officer at Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.

However, public passion for astronomy was ignited by the eclipse and its widespread coverage in the media and via lectures in schools and local communities, Tang said.

A small number of observatory staff involved in science promotion "have been working like dogs since late last year," Tang said.

"The observatory needs more staff," Tang said.

Shanghai Astronomical Obser-vatory's Sheshan Station in Songjiang District is the city's major astronomic education base, far from the city center in a building more than 100 years old.

Police responded to 780 vehicle emergencies citywide between 7am and 10am yesterday.

"With the rain beginning at the same time as the eclipse, many drivers slowed down," said Yu Dalei, a traffic police officer.

Wearing reflective jackets, 3,000-plus officers, nearly all from the city's available traffic force, were on street patrol during the eclipse.

Maritime and port authorities said shipping traffic on city waters operated normally throughout the eclipse, with no accidents reported.

Port immigration police said about 1,000 Chinese and overseas travelers viewed the eclipse aboard three passenger liners docking in Shanghai.

Air traffic at both city international airports proceeded on schedule, the Shanghai Airport Authority said.


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