‘Monster’ solar eclipse takes on Asian giants

NEW DELHI, July 20, 2009 (AFP) – The world’s most populous nations will gaze skywards Wednesday as the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century lays a carpet of darkness across India and China, from Mumbai to Shanghai. In ancient China, eclipses were often associated with natural disasters or the death of an emperor, and some similar superstitions persist.

There are also less otherworldly concerns — the potentially massive audience for this eclipse has raised fears that many could end up with permanent retina damage from viewing the event with the naked eye.

Delhi-based eye surgeon Rituraj Barauh said the most dangerous phase was immediately after totality when the sun re-emerged.

“It’s this quick shift from darkness to very bright light that does the damage,” he said.

Indian and Chinese authorities have used the media to educate people on the importance of wearing protective lenses, while others recommend live web casts at sites like www.live-eclipse.org and www.atlaspost.com/2009tse. The event is being hyped in the obscure world of eclipse-chasers as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which, due to its trajectory over some of the most densely inhabited areas on Earth, could end up being the