SHANGHAI: Eager solar eclipse gazers beware: Dense clouds may spoil your pent-up excitement by obscuring the view of the once-in-a-lifetime event in most areas of the Yangtze River Delta today.
Shanghai, one of the prime locations for viewing the phenomenon, will be shrouded in thick clouds and even thunderstorms for the duration of the solar eclipse - from 8:23 am to about 11:30 am, according to the Shanghai Meteorological Bureau.
"Current data show it will be almost impossible to watch the eclipse in Shanghai on Wednesday due to rain and heavy clouds, and temperatures will drop to 30 C," an official from the bureau said. "Weather in nearby cities of Yangtze River Delta will be nearly the same."
The total solar eclipse will last up to six minutes and possibly longer in some areas of Asia. Scientists said it will be the longest eclipse until the year 2132. Viewers in cities along the Yangtze River, including Shanghai, Suzhou and Wuhan can witness the rare event while the rest of the country can see a partial eclipse.
"But observation in cities in the upper reaches of the Yangtze River like Wuhan, Chengdu and Chongqing may not be affected," the weather official said.
Despite this, streams of amateur stargazers and scientists from home and abroad are traveling long distances to witness the rare astronomical event.
Hotels in Shanghai, Wuhan, and Chengdu reported an increase in bookings of 20 percent more than the same period last year.
In Shanghai, more than 4,000 people will go to suburban Yuehu Park of Sheshan Observatory and Yangshan Deep Water Port, two prime spots in the city, to observe the eclipse.
Shanghai Science Hall has organized a public viewing session in downtown Fuxing Park on Wednesday.
"More than 2,000 people are expected to come here, even if there is rain on Wednesday," a staff member surnamed Zhou said. "At least people will still be able to experience the sky changing from bright to dark."
Goggles sold out
Solar-eclipse goggles are still in high demand. Local observatories, museums and stores said their stock has sold out by now.
Children learn about the solar eclipse in the space hall of the Fantawild Adventure theme park in Wuhu, Anhui province, on Monday. The city is believed to be a prime spot to view the natural spectacle. [China Daily]
Statistics from Taobao.com shows more than 30,000 pair of solar-eclipse goggles have been sold in the past week, with a price of 1.5 yuan (22 US cents) to 20 yuan for a pair.
The Yangtze River Waterway Management Bureau said it will turn on 50,000 navigation lights along the river during the eclipse to avoid any possible accidents under the darkness.
According to local air traffic departments, Shanghai's two airports will adopt night-mode navigation during the nearly three-hour eclipse period.
In Shanghai Wild Animal Park, more lighting equipment have been installed, and all staff members have been asked to work during the day of the eclipse.
"Because animals are quite sensitive to unusual changes, the eclipse may make them panic," a staff member said.
He also suggested people pay attention to the behavior of their pets or other domestic animals during the event.
Ji Haisheng, an astronomer with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said yesterday that Chinese scientists are striving to capture a 40-minute sequence of images of the corona of the solar eclipse along its path across China today in a bid to understand the sun's outer atmosphere.
"If weather permits, we are very likely to get first-hand materials for the solar corona research," said Ji, a research fellow with the CAS Purple Mountain Observatory based in Nanjing.
Seventeen observation stations were set up in the solar eclipse path from Yunnan province to Zhejiang province, which runs 2,500 km, he said.