Eclipse Blacks Out Sun Over Siberia, Mongolia, Western China

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An enormous swathe of western Siberian was submerged in darkness Friday afternoon as the moon completely blocked out the sun, enrapturing huge crowds of Russians and foreign tourists.

The peak of the total solar eclipse occurred in Novosibirsk, Russia's third largest city with 1.5 million people.

There, forecasts of cloudy skies turned out to be wrong, and tens of thousands of people who had flocked to the center of town were able to observe the rare total eclipse of the sun — which lasted two minutes, 23 seconds — in its full beauty.

Crowds wearing protective eye wear cheered and whistled once the moon completely blocked out the sun and day became night.

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Lucas Heinrich, a physics student from Berlin who traveled to Novosibirsk with classmates, described it as "unbelievable."

"It became cold and dark, and suddenly it was light again. I am very happy — it was worth the trip," Heinrich said.

The NTV news channel reported that more than 10,000 foreign tourists arrived in Novosibirsk, the largest city under the eclipse's path, to watch it.

Friday's eclipse began in Arctic Canada, and then passed over Greenland, western Siberia, Mongolia and China.

The first Russians to witness the eclipse were on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen north of Norway.

In Novosibirsk, the airport announced that it turned on nighttime landing lights to provide illumination and handled 14 regular flights and departures during the partial and total darkness of the eclipse, which lasted more than two hours.

Cloudy weather in other parts of western Siberia prevented many from enjoying the stunning spectacle.

Residents of Nadym, a small town not far from the Arctic Circle, were treated to rain and full cloud cover at the moment of total eclipse. Still, the weather didn't stop many from enjoying the festive mood and throwing barbecue parties.

It was not immediately clear how many people suffered eye injuries, despite repeated warnings to wear protective glasses.

In Moscow, there was a partial eclipse — half the sun was blocked — but thick cloud cover prevented Muscovites from enjoying the view.

People have been recording solar eclipses for perhaps 4,000 years, and they typically inspire a combination of dread, fascination and awe — especially for those standing in the path of a total eclipse.

News agencies are reporting that Russia will next see a solar eclipse in 22 years.

According to NASA, the world's next total eclipse is expected July 22, 2009, starting in India and moving across Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China and over the Pacific Ocean.