Skygazers revel in 'blood moon', cloud hinders Delhi's view (Lead)

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New Delhi : Tens of thousands of skywatchers across the country sat watching for the longest "blood moon" of the century on Friday night, but many in the North were disappointed as they couldn't enjoy the astronomical delight because of a thick cloud cover.

People were out on roads or their rooftops and terraces to watch the moon turning red -- the longest celestial event of the 21st century that lasted for about two hours.

In Delhi, some 2,000 stargazers were at the Nehru Planetarium to witness total lunar eclipse. But they returned disappointed because monsoon clouds spoiled the show, with Delhi like many other parts of north India, missing their date with "the blushing" bride -- the moon which turned red.

The phenomenon is caused because the earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the moon. But the indirect sunlight is refracted by the earth's atmosphere. Only the refracted red light, with longer wavelength, travels the distance and passes to the moon and other colours are filtered out.

People in other parts of the country enjoyed the once-in-a-century celestial event.

Hundreds flocked to the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium in the tech hub of Bengaluru on a cool Friday night to witness the spectacle in a hazy sky even as the red moon played hide and seek.

"About 3,000 visitors, including students accompanied by their parents, visited the planetarium between 11.54 p.m and 4.58 a.m to view the longest lunar eclipse through telescope," Director of planetarium Pramod G. Galgali told IANS here.

Scores of skygazers queued up in the open area of the planetarium where 10 huge telescopes were set up to watch the eclipse from a vantage point.

The thick monsoon clouds over the city, however, restricted a clear view of the eclipse, disappointing several photography enthusiasts.

"There was a clear sky for about 45 minutes during the eclipse when the skywatchers could view the phenomenon," Galgali said.

The eclipse began at 10.44 p.m on Friday night ending at 4.58 a.m on Saturday. The period when the moon was completely in earth's shadow, known as the 'totality', lasted for about an hour and 43 minutes.

In the city's Town Hall in the downtown, about two kilometres away from the planetarium, about 100 men, including rationalists, lawyers, doctors, students and academics, gathered to celebrate the historic event in revelry, partying and merry-making.

Many, especially Hindus, completed their dinner early by 8 p.m. on Friday and ate nothing till the eclipse came to an end. They took a bath before resuming their day on Saturday to wash off what they consider evil effects of eclipse.

On the contrary, many across the country consumed food and cut cakes to prove that nothing would happen if one eats during the eclipse -- mocking at the superstitious beliefs and blind faiths of astrologists.

As many consider lunar eclipses to be inauspicious, several temples were shut early on Friday night.

In Tamil Nadu, a large number of people saw the captivating lunar eclipse at the B.M. Birla Planetarium which had made special arrangements with high-tech telescopes.

In case of some people, whose birth star coincided with the eclipse, performed special poojas in temples to ward off adverse evil effects of the eclipse.

Sky watchers in Kolkata and most other parts of West Bengal were disappointed, as the cloudy weather stood in between them and the celestial wonder.

"Nothing could be seen from Kolkata. I tried to watch it from my residence in Salt Lake, on Kolkata's north east fringes. But it was absolutely overcast. Nothing was visible," Debiprosad Duari, Director - Research and Academic, MP Birla Institute of Fundamental Research and MP Birla Planetarium, told IANS.

A large number of skygazer clubs in the city had made arrangements for public viewing of the longest total lunar eclipse of the century, by placing telescopes on rooftops or balconies, but it proved fruitless.

Shibraj Dutta, a dentist based in Midnapore town -- the headquarters of West Midnapore district -- had stayed up late to watch the spectacle with his own eyes, only to be heartbroken.

"There was only darkness because of the cloud. I waited for a long time. And then retired to my bed," he said.