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January 16, 2010

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Sky spectacle as 'tiger eats the sun'

Zhu Juyuan, 65, belongs to the Yi ethnic group, which considers the sun a goddess.

When it became a black orb encircled by a fiery ring yesterday, he ran out of his home in southwest China's Yunan Province to witness the event.

Hundreds of thousands of Chinese looked skyward in the afternoon, attracted by the planet's longest annular solar eclipse in 1,000 years as it crossed China.

It was visible in parts of Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, Hunan, Hubei, Henan, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shandong provinces as well as Chongqing Municipality.

A crowd of more than 700 people cheered at 4:45pm at Erhai Lake in Yunnan's Dali City, which was thought to be the best location for observation.

"Too beautiful. I'm lost for words," said Dong Liang, a 27-year-old college student from Kunming, capital of Yunnan.

"The sky turned a kind of mysterious blue. A round shadow was moving fast into the bright disk and later a white ring appeared, just like a ring on someone's finger," said Yang Chunjin, a local resident.

Amateur astronomers from Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, and the provinces of Hunan, Hubei and Sichuan, had swarmed to the ancient city of Dali days before, filling the hotels.

Zhu looked into the water to see the reflection of the darkened sun as his Yi ancestors did to show respect.

"The eclipse was considered to be the sky tiger eating the sun. When the eclipse occurred, elderly people always said something evil would happen, so they would beat drums and gongs to scare the sky tiger away," said Zhu.

But the days when people feared an eclipse had long gone, he said.

The eclipse began at 3pm in Ruili City, Dehong Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan. The ring occurred at 4:37pm, and lasted 8 minutes and 17 seconds, the longest duration of the eclipse in the country.

The phenomenon ended in east China's Jiaodong Peninsula, Shandong Province, with an eclipse at sunset.

In ancient times, ordinary people were forbidden to study solar eclipses, which were believed to be able to foretell the fate of emperors, said Liu Ciyuan, a researcher with the National Time Service of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.


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