If you weren’t in the northern region of the island last weekend you’d have missed out on a breath-taking astronomical spectacle. Jaffna was abuzz with activity as astronomy enthusiasts flocked to the city, to view the much talked about annular eclipse, which was the most visible and for the longest duration.
Among the enthusiasts that swarmed Jaffna, were quite a few young Colombo folk who took the opportunity to visit the previously inaccessible area as well as witness this extraordinary sight that resembled a ring of fire in the sky.
The Astronomical Society set up their equipment at the Hindu College grounds that day and made it available to the public for observing the eclipse. Professionals, students, photographers and people from all walks of life clustered on the grounds periodically looking through filters at the sun as the moon passed over it.
“The annular eclipse was visible in the Northern Province, and its visibility stretched across the border at Chilaw, Anuradhapura, Nilavali and Trincomalee. However, for viewers situated below these cities, the eclipse appeared as a partial one. The best place to view the eclipse being Jaffna, had an annular phase of 10 minutes, this is the longest annular eclipse, and one with such a duration will only be visible in another 1000 years,” says Thilina Heenatigala, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Astronomical Association.
“It is the first time I’ve seen it with my own eyes. The experience was ‘out of this world’. It was quite an awesome experience because the light of the sun and its golden globe in the sky is something we take for granted everyday and to see it reduced to just a ring was something not to be missed. Plus, doing the things we did to get a better view of the eclipse really did make it that more special since we knew that we were part of something global, that many others shared the same enthusiasm to witness this phenomenon,” said Lasantha David, (19) a student of IT at Esoft, who came to view the eclipse.
“In a nutshell, the visit was to kill two birds with one stone. Visit Jaffna and see the annular eclipse at its best and to be part of the 400 odd others who went the 400km to view this sight which is also a global event,” he said.
Aruna Dayananda (24) a student of International Relations, who had also travelled miles to witness the eclipse from Jaffna, shared similar sentiments saying, “this was a rare opportunity to be able to see it with my own eyes. Sure we used shielding that turned everything green, but seeing the moon gradually cover the sun, becoming a crescent midway before obscuring it was something spectacular. Normally I hear about eclipses only to find out that it’s not visible in Sri Lanka, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Visiting Jaffna alone would have been worth it. To step in to a part of the country that has not been accessible since before I was born isn’t something that happens everyday. Being there truly conveyed a sense that the war was over. Jaffna always remained as a place you hear people talk about that no one visits because of the war, so to be standing there was a concrete sign that the war was over.”
Adding, “a visit to Jaffna with the eclipse allowed us to get a better view of this rare phenomenon as well as seeing a long closed off part of Sri Lanka”.
Watching the moon become superimposed over the sun, revealing just a ring of light was indeed a rare phenomenon. All across Sri Lanka the bright noon sun was dimmed as the moon cast an eerie shadow over the island, an occurrence that will not be experienced for another nine years.
“The next two solar eclipses to cross Sri Lanka will take place on December 26, 2019 and on May 21, 2031, both are annular eclipses and will be visible in Northern Sri Lanka. The next ones to follow are a total eclipse on April 11, 2070 and annular on January 27, 2074 which will be visible in the South of the island,” shares Mr. Heenatigala.
This is good news for those who missed this year’s annular eclipse. In a bit less than a decade you will have the opportunity to catch the amazing astronomical spectacle. Word of warning though, do remember to wear protective eye wear.