The Maldives will tomorrow become the best vantage point in the world to watch the longest-lasting solar eclipse of the millenium – at least until the year 3043.
The eclipse will follow a 300-kilometre wide route across Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia, beginning at 10:45am Maldivian time and almost completely overlapping the sun at 12.27pm, creating a stunning ‘ring of fire’ effect that will be visible for almost 11 minutes.
So unique is the event that scientists and eclipse chasers from all over the world are converging on Male to watch the spectacular event.
Founding member of the Maldives Science Society, Ahid Rasheed, noted that the country is hosting the largest ever gathering of pendulum specialists in the world, drawn from the UK, Colombia, Australia and Canada, who will be studying gravitational anomolies during the solar event.
“We are very honoured to be hosting them, particularly as we are such a young organisation,” Rasheed said. “There’s also a cruise ship arriving from India especially to see to eclipse in Male, with four astronomers on board.”
News broadcaster CNN will be broadcasting live around the world from the roof of the tallest building in Male, the Holiday Inn.
The ‘annular’ eclipse means the moon will not obscure the sun completely, unlike a total eclipse, explains Rasheed, as the moon is currently further away from Earth as thus appearing smaller to those watching on the planet’s surface. This will make the moon appear framed by the sun, an effect Rasheed promises “is going to be very beautiful.”
“Ninety-one percent of the sun will be covered – it’s going to look just like the one on the TV series Heroes,” he explained.
As beautiful as the effect may be, watching it with the naked eye is very dangerous and can cause permanent eye damage just as if one was staring at the sun.
“It doesn’t matter if 100 percent or eight percent of the sun is visible, the infra-red rays will still be hitting the eyes,” Rasheed said.
“Some people say you can use the inside of floppy disks or x-ray sheets, but they won’t block all the IR rays. Sunglasses are not advisable at all, because they only protect from UV rays.
“Special eclipse-viewing glasses are made from mylar or black polymer. You can also use welding glasses, but I haven’t seen any in Male of the right standard.”
The Maldives Science Society will be holding a viewing session with 10 solar-protected telescopes starting from 9:00am until the eclipse ends at around 2:30pm, he said. with a break for Friday prayer. The society will also be providing a number of eclipse glasses, and has cleared the event with the Islamic Ministry.
“Friday is the Islamic weekend and in a 100% Muslim country, no event can happen during prayer time,” Rasheed explains.
The government recently asked the Holiday Inn to cancel an event planned during the eclipse which included music and a barbecue, after the event was criticised in an article published in newspaper Miadhu for contravening the Islamic tenet.
“The Holiday Inn [controversy] affected us. We tried to get students involved and approached a school about it, but the management were very hesitant,” Rasheed said, adding that the eclipse viewing would include a break during prayer time.
The Maldives Science Society event will be held at the back of Dharubaaruge (Usfasgandu) on Ameenee Magu in Male.
Live CNN coverage of the event will appear here.