07/21/2009, 00.00
ASIA
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Informed by science and magic, Asians wait for the longest solar eclipse of the century

The “event of the century” is scheduled for tomorrow when a solar eclipse is set to last 6 minutes and 27 seconds. Astrologers and magicians predict clashes and social unrest. In China the authorities have launched a campaign to educate people. But the event will breathe new life in a tourist sector badly hurt by the global recession and the swine flu.
Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Millions of Asians are preparing for the longest solar eclipse of the century, mixing science, magic and superstitions. Astronomers hope the eclipse will unlock clues about the sun; astrologers in Myanmar are predicting chaos, war and social unrest; pregnant women in India will stay indoors fearing the sun’s invisible rays said to be bad for unborn children; but in China some are already planning to cash in, hoping to revive a once thriving tourist sector, and this despite fear among the authorities that some might panic or have unjustified reactions.

Beginning tomorrow in the Gulf of Khambhat, north of Mumbai, an eclipse, an astronomical event that sees the moon move between the Earth and the sun, will cross Asia, affecting Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China and Japan, to end in the Pacific Islands.

The whole of South-East Asia will be blacked out by the moon. The maximum point is set to last 6 minutes and 27 seconds. For a repeat people will have to wait until 2132.

For astronomers, it will be a chance for a prolonged view of the sun's corona, a white ring 600,000 miles (1 million kilometres) from the sun's surface. They will be able to study its temperature (2 million degrees) and its waves and the role they play in producing the energy that heats it.

But where there are many people there is also money to be made. People are in fact flocking to the regions where the eclipse will reach its maximum.

Despite possible bad weather for many in the tourist sector this is a godsend after the economic tsunami caused by the swine flu and the global recession.

A US firm specialising in astronomical tourism is organising trips to various locations that will experience the eclipse; ticket price: US 2,500 to 3,600.

An Indian travel agency is preparing a charter flight to follow the event in the sky.

In Shanghai, home to China’s biggest observatory, everything is ready for the event of the century, and this despite widespread popular superstitions.

This “is a very special opportunity,” said Shao Zhenyi, an astronomer at the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory.

Special indeed as well for Liang Wei from Guangzhou for whom “it's an experience I've waited all my life for.”

In the past few weeks Chinese authorities have launched a media campaign to educate people about the event to avoid panic and unjustified reactions.

In China eclipses are associated with revolutions, social unrest and the fall of empires. Many in Beijing are probably hoping this eclipse does not mark the end of the country’s “Red” empire.

For their part astrologers in India and Myanmar are predicting clashes and social unrest.

In Hindu mythology Rahu and Ketu are the names of the head and torso of a demon that swallowed the moon and sun, causing an eclipse.

People in the subcontinent will take a dip in holy rivers to cleanse themselves after the eclipse; others are not planning to cook and eat during the eclipse.

Some people also say pregnant women should refrain from going outside during an eclipse because their babies might develop birth defects as a result of invisible rays.

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