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Many people gazed at the sky in wonder and cheered while others knelt in prayer. This was as a total eclipse of the sun unfolded over Indonesia on March 9. It briefly plunged cities into darkness and it startled wildlife.
The rare astronomical occurrence was witnessed along a narrow path that stretched across 12 Indonesian provinces. It included three time zones. About 40 million people could see it. A partial eclipse was visible in other parts of the Indonesian archipelago, a swath of Asia and in northern Australia.
Thousands of eclipse-chasers flocked to Indonesia from abroad. The government has been promoting the event for more than a year and had forecast a sizable tourism boost. Some tour groups chartered ships to view the eclipse. The event began at sea in the Indian Ocean and ended in the Pacific. A dozen Americans joined a commercial flight from Anchorage, Alaska, to Honolulu. They took that flight because its path would rendezvous with an eclipse sweet spot north of Hawaii.
Thousands that gathered in Sigi Biromaru, a hilltop town in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province, shouted and clapped. They watched as the sun transformed into a dark orb for more than two minutes. Hundreds of others prayed at nearby mosques.
"The sun totally disappeared. How amazing this sunny morning suddenly changed to dark," said Junaz Amir. He is a Sigi resident who witnessed the eclipse with his family. They used special protective glasses.
Ternate was one of the last cities in the eclipse's path. Some residents said they were viewing it by looking at the reflected image in bowls of water. Experts say the total eclipse can be viewed with the naked eye. However, specific filters should be used during its partial phases. The filters help to avoid permanent damage to the retina.
Most eclipses are partial. But when the moon is close enough to the Earth, the sun is completely eclipsed by the moon's shadow. Only a spectacular ring of rays known as the corona is visible.
The last time a total eclipse occurred over Indonesia was in 1988. Unfounded fears and misinformation caused panic. People papered over windows and kept children indoors.
Cloudy skies in parts of Indonesia dampened the spectacle for some. In Palembang, a Sumatran city of more than 1.4 million, thousands of residents gathered at its landmark Ampera Bridge. They arrived well before dawn. But the total eclipse was only briefly visible if at all.
"Too bad we cannot see when the total solar eclipse occurred. But the dark atmosphere when it happened made us feel happy," said Palembang resident Martha Sembiring.
There was also disappointment for a group of six eclipse chasers. They traveled from Canada and the U.S. to Kalimantan.
"Unfortunately we got nothing because we had rain showers and solid cloud," said optometrist Ralph Chou. He was hoping to see his 19th total solar eclipse.
Chou is a Canadian. He helped develop the international standards for eclipse filters. He said there were still impressive effects of light and darkness. Birds appeared confused and disoriented by dark falling again after dawn.
The previous total solar eclipse was in March last year. It was best viewed on Norway's Svalbard islands. The islands are near the North Pole. The next total eclipse will occur in August 2017. It will be visible over a slice of North America.
The entire eclipse lasted about three hours. It began with the first patch of darkness appearing on the edge of the sun.
For the viewer, the length of time the sun was totally eclipsed depended on location along the path. On land, the durations were mostly between 1 and 3 minutes.
In Jakarta, thousands of residents packed a planetarium at a downtown park. Officials distributed about 4,000 filtered viewing glasses that quickly ran out. The eclipse produced an impressive crescent from the vantage point of Jakarta. The eclipse was also streamed on monitors around the planetarium.
Scientists from NASA and Indonesia's aerospace agency observed the eclipse from Maba in the Maluku islands.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why didn't we see the eclipse in America?
Write your answers in the comments section below