Watching eclipse from 41,000 ft - breathtaking!

July 22nd, 2009 - 7:13 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) “It was a breathtaking experience,” said 70-year-old Deepak Bhimani, one of the 35 passengers onboard the special flight to watch the century’s longest total solar eclipse from 41,000 feet above the ground.
“It was very exciting and I really have no words to describe it. It was like the Sun was so near to me and we had a very pristine image. We could even see Mercury and Venus as the sky darkened and the whole phenomenon was breathtaking,” Bhimani, who was the oldest passenger on the flight, told IANS.

On earlier occasions, Bhimani has seen the eclipse from the Antarctica and Sahara also.

The special flight was an initiative of travel agency Cox and Kings India, under the guidance of Eclipse Chasers Athenaeum (ECA), a wing of the Science Popularisation Association of Communicators and Educators (SPACE), an organisation working to make science and astronomy popular among the youth.

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for many. The 35 people onboard the flight left the capital at 4:30 a.m. and between 6:20 a.m. to 6:25 a.m. the aircraft circled for three minutes over Gaya in Bihar nearly 41,000 above the ground. Some had even shelled out as much as Rs.70,000 for a window seat.

Another passenger, Vijat Asar, a businessman, said: “It was excellent and I was able to see the eclipse in various phases and from different heights. It is a memorable experience. It was for the first time that I watched the solar eclipse.”

Millions across the country Wednesday watched the longest solar eclipse of the century in India. However, at some places people were left disappointed as clouds blocked the view.

The eclipse was first seen at 5.28 a.m. in Surat, Gujarat, in western India and last at 7.40 a.m. in Dibrugarh, Assam in eastern India. The spectacle, marred by cloud cover in many places, lasted six minutes and 44 seconds. The next time it will take place will be 123 years later in 2132.

The total solar eclipse was visible in places like Surat, Indore and Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Patna and Taregna in Bihar, and Guwahati in Assam. The rest of the country experienced a partial eclipse.

The youngest on the flight was 11-year-old Shreya. She said: “It was really good. You are never going to see it again. Just a black spot and it is totally beyond words.”

Another eclipse chaser Mahesh said: “If there is rebirth, then I will witness it in my next birth. All those who stayed at home today for whatever reasons, superstition or whatever, I think they have missed out.”

According to Ajai Talwar, head of ECA: “It was an awesome experience. The sun right in front of you and moon covering it thus spreading darkness all over the sky and earth. Chances are always better to watch an eclipse above the clouds for the atmosphere is pollution free.”

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