Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

UAE residents witness spectacular solar eclipse

Early risers looked to the skies to observe the rare celestial event

Sky gazers across the Emirates rose early on Thursday morning to witness a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse.

The celestial event is extremely rare - occurring in the UAE for the first time in 172 years - so residents were happy to miss out on some extra sleep to experience a slice of history.

People donned filtered, solar eclipse glasses to take in the impressive sight at a number of viewing centres dotted all over the country.

Known as an annular solar eclipse, the moon passes in front of the sun’s centre, leaving its edges to form a bright circle – sometimes known as a 'ring of fire'. This occurs when the moon is farthest from Earth.

The best time to view the eclipse, which lasted for about two hours in total, was said to be at roughly 7.38am.

“The disc of the moon will move in front of the sun but because of the moon’s distance from Earth, it will only partially cover it, causing a ring-type visual,” said Hasan Al Harari from Dubai Astronomy Group.

“Because of its rarity, this is quite a spectacular event. It does not happen as often as a total eclipse.”

One of the best vantage points came at an event held by Dubai Astronomy Group at the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

Crowds gathered at Al Thuraya Astronomy Centre, in Mushrif park in Dubai, to soak in a spectacle which may not be enjoyed for generations to come.

They used telescopes and wore solar glasses to see the stunning event unfold.

In Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, about 500 people turned out in force at an event organised by the UAE Space Agency and the Astronomical Association.

For many it was their first time to witness such an event and they were eager to make the most of the opportunity.

Complimentary solar glasses and booklets were handed out by the agency to a diverse crowd of men, women and children of all ages.

“Watch out don't look at the sun," was commonly heard as people warned one another to wear their glasses before shifting their gaze towards the sky.

Those who were extra cautious kept their glasses on even while greeting their acquaintances, blindly.

“Yes! I can see the moon in front of the sun, the sunlight is so strong from behind,” said an enthusiastic 11-year-old, Zayed Ayman.

An image made from live video from the Slooh robotic telescope service, shows a near full solar eclipse at the International Astronomical Centre in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy: AP    
An image made from live video from the Slooh robotic telescope service, shows a near full solar eclipse at the International Astronomical Centre in Abu Dhabi. Courtesy: AP    

“This is the first time I am seeing an eclipse.”

He slept at his aunt’s house the night before in order to accompany her and his cousins to the early morning viewing.

“I found out about the eclipse by coincidence while listening to the radio yesterday morning,” said his uncle Abdelnaser Abd Rabo, 44.

“I then searched online and found that the space agency was offering a viewing.”

His wife and children were equally excited to learn about the opportunity.

“We asked them if they were willing to wake up early in the morning, and they were all up and running,” said Ameera Samir, 41.

“I also brought my nephew to sleep over so he does not miss it.”

They were accompanied by their three sons, Khalid, 15, Omar, 13, and Hamza, 11.

“Khalid is specifically interested in astronomy so we are happy he got to see this,” she said.

Feelings of gratitude were common among viewers.

“It makes me realise how blessed we are to live here,” said TJ Button, who attended the eclipse with her family and friends.

“I did not find about this event until 11pm last night, and I did not have any glasses, so I wondered if there is a point in waking up the kids and coming to watch it.

“This is my first time to see an eclipse; I have never been in the right place at the right time.”

Michelle Balmer and her husband Dan only learned about the event on Wednesday night.

“We thought of driving to the desert, then we discovered [the viewing at] Masdar,” said the 39-year-old Marketing consultant from the UK.

“We live in Al Raha Beach, so it was very easy to come here,” said Mr Balmer, 43, president at Aston Martin for the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

While it was their third time watching an eclipse, having previously taken in viewings in the UK and Las Vegas.

Updated: December 26, 2019 04:45 PM

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