Getting to witness one total solar eclipse in a lifetime is a blessing. Getting to see a total solar eclipse, followed by an annular solar eclipse six months later (without much of a hassle) is what I call a true double blessing. And that’s what some people in India are getting this year.

In July 2009, the path of totality passed through central and north India. Even though it was monsoon time, and the totality occurred almost at sunrise, many lucky ones got a good glimpse of totality from places like Kashi and Sasaram. Now, on January 15th, the annular eclipse path is going through the southern tip of India. January being one of the best months for sky watching in south India, and the fact that the eclipse occurs during mid day, I hope, will make it another Great Indian Eclipse!

Why is the Sun not getting covered completely by the Moon, even though it is passing directly in front of the Sun? The answer is simple: the Earth is near the point where it is closest to the Sun, making it look larger (comparatively) than the Moon. So, instead of a total eclipse, we have an annular eclipse where a ring of the Sun is seen around the black shadow of the moon at the maximum eclipse.

On a side note: In India, it is considered to be auspicious to visit a holy place (generally with a river, ocean, lake etc) during an eclipse and take a dip in water after the eclipse is over. The last total eclipse passing through Kashi* gave those religiously minded people to visit Kashi for the eclipse for a dip in the holy river Ganga, and this annular eclipse gives them a reason to go to Rameshwaram* and take a dip in the ocean! Both Kashi and Rameshwaram are very ancient cities with a long history, both have shrines of Shiva (Jyothirlinga)and a pilgrimage to Kashi  is not supposed to be complete unless a devote visits Rameshwaram!

-neelanjana

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