Millions Witness Century's Longest Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse

Hundreds of millions of people across parts of the world's most populated nations, China and India, witnessed today what's expected to be the longest solar eclipse of the 21st century.

The eclipse became visible at sunrise today local time in Taregna, a village in eastern India, and moved across a 155-mile-wide ribbon of Asia, including areas of Nepal, Bangladesh, China and part of the Pacific Ocean.

The total eclipse started when the moon completely blocked out the sun in the village, which scientists said was the best place to view the spectacular event, at 6:24 a.m. local time.

VIDEO: Millions Witness Worlds Longest Solar Eclipse
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In Varanasi, India, a Hindu holy city on the Ganges River, clear skies allowed the curious to get a perfect view of the event, but there were heavy clouds over much of the region, disappointing millions who had hoped to see the eclipse.

That may have included eclipse enthusiasts from around the world who descended on the region to view the event by land, sea and air to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon, which lasted six minutes and 39 seconds in some areas.

Awed by the rare experience of watching the moon block the light of the sun, "eclipse chasers" go to the ends of the Earth, often paying thousands of dollars for the perfect view and the maximum duration of darkness.

"Most people who go on these tours, they've seen one or more eclipses. They become hooked on it," said Paul D. Maley, a NASA contractor leading an eclipse tour in Shanghai, China, for Houston-based Ring of Fire Expeditions, an astronomical tour organization.

In Asia, Eclipses Seen as Mixed Blessing

In Varanasi, many people gathered to get a glimpse of the eclipse, to pray to the Hindu sun god and to take a dip in the Ganges river, regarded as holy by many Hindus. Bhailal Sharma, a villager from central India, told Reuters that, "We have come here because our elders told us this is the best time to improve our afterlife."

But the event turned tragic for one 65-year-old woman, who died in a stampede amid the crowds at the banks of the Ganges, police spokesman Surendra Srivastava told The Associated Press today.

In Nepal, where the majority of the population are Hindu, the government declared a public holiday and thousands there gathered at the holy Bagmati river. "Taking a dip in holy rivers before and after the eclipse salvages and protects us from disasters and calamities," 86-year-old Sundar Shrestha told Reuters.

In China, large crowds assembled along the dykes of the industrial city of Wuhan, waving as the last rays of the sun disappeared. But cloud cover and rain prevented many in the rest of country from enjoying the sight.

Some Chinese who wanted to see the eclipse avoided heavily-polluted, industrialized areas. "The majority of people decided to go to Tongning, in Anhui, because they're worried about the serious air pollution from industrial areas in Shanghai," Bill Yeung, the president of the Hong Kong Astronomical Society, told Reuters.

In Japan, scientists and residents gathered across the country to both study the sun and to witness the eclipse. As the sky darkened, confused cattle raced to their troughs, thinking that it was time for dinner.

In Tokyo's famously crowded Shibuya crossing, onlookers squinted up at the sun and took pictures with their cell phones. High school student Ohtani Yoko told ABC News that the experience "was better than I thought it would be. I'm very happy to have seen it, it was beautiful."

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