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'Ring of fire' solar eclipse attracts stargazers in Chile and Argentina

As moon and sun aligned in a narrow band across the Southern Hemisphere, onlookers experienced a rare eclipse. Experts warned that looking directly into the sun during an eclipse could cause eye damage.

Stargazers gathered in several Latin American countries on Sunday to see the moon pass in front of the sun, creating the illusion of a burning ring of fire in the sky. 

Outside the city of Sarmiento in southern Argentina, where the eclipse left just a narrow ring in the dark sky, around 300 stargazers gathered. 

Josep Masalles Roman came all the way from Barcelona, Spain, to Sarmiento. "I have already seen six annular eclipses and each one was different," he told reporters.

In Chile, hundreds gathered shortly after sunrise in a central square in Coyhaique, a small town in the south of the country, where the eclipse was particularly well visible. Many onlookers clapped as the "ring of fire" came into view.

During the so-called annular eclipse the moon and the sun are aligned at an angle so that the moon covers the sun, but appears smaller than the sun, creating a circle of light. While it took roughly two hours for the moon to cross the sun, the full eclipse only lasted a few minutes.

"As about 90 percent of the Sun is covered, you'll notice a distinct drop in temperature and brightness, and a change in the quality of the light which is hard to describe," Terry Moseley of the Irish Astronomical Association said.

The eclipse only occurred within a band roughly 100 kilometers (62 miles) wide in the Southern hemisphere. Starting in the southeast Pacific at sunrise, the eclipse passed over southern Chile and Argentina before moving to African countries including Angola, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo via the Atlantic.

Experts warned onlookers to not gaze directly into the eclipse with the naked eye, because even just a fraction of the sun's light could cause eye damage by staring directly into it. Animals were expected to act unusually during the eclipse, because the unexpected darkness during the day caused them to enter their night-time routine.

mb/jm (AFP, dpa)

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