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Feature: Astronomy buffs in Urumqi enjoy reprieve on eclipse day
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21:02, July 22, 2009

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Even thought it was only a partial eclipse for spectators in Urumqi, the two-hour solar event on Wednesday carried a little more weight for astronomy lovers in Xinjiang's capital city, which saw a deadly riot half month ago.

"Today is the happiest day I have had over the past two weeks," said Han Zhaohui, a freshman from the Xinjiang Agricultural University who calls himself a "huge fan" of astronomy.

"After staying home for days, it's really exciting to watch the eclipse outdoors, but I didn't expect to share the great experience with so many people," said the 20-year-old as he handed his modified binoculars, especially equipped with a filter for solar eclipse viewing, to an old woman who asked for borrowing it for a while.

More than 1,000 Urumqi citizens joined Han at the downtown Southern Lake Square to watch the spectacle. The crowd brought pleasant "trouble" for Song Huagang, secretary-general of the city's astronomical society, which organized more than 50 members to observe the eclipse together at the square.

"We had expected around 100 observers and prepared 30 observation glasses made of paper board and filters, and it's obviously not enough now," said Song, adding that their 500 six-page handouts on the eclipse were all distributed within 20 minutes.

Tension, however, was still in the air as teams of police equipped with shields and batons patrolled the area and a police wagon stood by.

When the eclipse actually started at around 8:22 a.m., the waiting crowd became even more excited. A white astronomical telescope, with a caliber of eight centimeters, became a hot spot as a 40-meter-long line of observers lined up for a 10-second look at the eclipse.

Accompanied by her grandmother, Xing Xue'er, a sixth-grader with the city's No. 59 primary school, was thrilled to have her first look at an eclipse through professional equipment.

"The sun looks like a moon as a part of it turns black," said Xing." I watched the eclipse last year with a roll of used film and it's not comparable with the telescope, which is more clear and vivid."

Kader Dan, a Uygur student with the No. 50 middle school, is no stranger to professional observation facilities. The 14-year-old boy, a member of the school's student astronomical study group, isa frequent visitor to the city's planetarium and dreams of becoming a physical scientist someday.

He came to watch the solar eclipse with eight friends from the study group. They planned to draw a painting of the eclipse.

"It's a magic. Though there will be a lot of pictures, surely much better than ours, we would like to keep a record by ourselves in a way that ancient scientists did," he said.

Volunteers and researchers with the city's astronomical observatory were either helping the observers to ensure viewing accuracy and safety, or giving a brief lectures to the public on how the eclipse happened.

Ali Isamyding, a Uygur astronomy researcher, called for greater interest in science, especially astronomy, among the general public.

"It's a wonderful experience to watch the fabulous performance by Nature. Just to think about it: Who else except Nature, has the power to put the Earth, Sun and Moon in a line," said Isamyding.

According to Isamyding, Xinjiang, whose land area accounts for about one-sixth of China's total, has a higher probability of being able to watch eclipse than other areas in the country.

"Usually, we can watch an eclipse every two-to-three years in Xinjiang and that's why a national observatory was set up in region," he said.

The region has a long history of astronomical study, some of which were recorded in the Muslim classics Diwan Lughat Al-Turk (Compendium of the Turkic Dialects) and Kutatku Bilik (Wisdom of Happiness), both composed in the 11th century.

"Kutatku Bilik even gives detailed explanations on modern 12 constellations, and we plan to carry out studies based on the achievements of ethnic groups in Xinjiang in astronomy," he said.

Source: Xinhua

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