HK crowds flock to get an eyeful of eclipse

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 July, 2009, 12:00am

Holding eclipse shades above his glasses and sporting a wide grin, 11-year-old Yenco Man Yin-hang was the first to step on to the observation platform at the Hong Kong Space Museum to view the longest solar eclipse this century.

He and his grandfather stood in line from 6am, spending two hours in the morning sun to be the first to get a chance to see that very sun partially eclipsed. 'I've never seen one before,' Yenco said. 'I'm quite excited about astronomy.'

Across Hong Kong, the young and old gathered yesterday to watch the rare phenomenon - some waking up early, others taking special time off work. At least 1,000 people lined up for the rooftop observation platform at the Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui.

The museum provided eclipse shades, telescopes and projection devices for safe viewing of the sun, which was 67 per cent obscured by the moon by 9.25am.

'The sun becomes the moon. It's funny and beautiful,' five-year-old Keith Lai Kiu-chit said.

Through the eclipse shades, the sun was a fiery orange ball amid a dark sky, with the moon's curved shadow inching over it. The audience ooh-ed, aah-ed and cheered, some groaning every time a cloud blocked the view, some waving and yelling 'bye-bye!' to the moon as the sun emerged whole by 11am.

In Tuen Mun, a primary school and the Hong Kong Astronomical Society spent thousands of dollars and prepared for almost four months organising a similar viewing, which required pre-registration for up to 1,000 people. Many who travelled to the event were unaware of the website pre-registration option.

'It would be a pity if we can't see the eclipse,' said a woman surnamed Tam, who woke up at 6am and drove for 45 minutes to stand in line with her family. 'My daughter wants to tell her teacher after seeing it.'

Some who could not enter these events or buy filters simply turned the naked eye to the sun or looked at reflections of it, ignoring experts' warnings of eye damage. The Hong Kong Eye Hospital set up a hotline for those concerned about experiencing symptoms.

Symptoms of damage include blurred vision, central visual field loss, seeing an after-image, and reddening of the image. As of yesterday evening, the hotline had received six inquiries.

'All are trifling cases for now, not serious,' a spokesman for Chinese University's department of ophthalmology and visual sciences said.

At the Space Museum, visitors were limited to 15 minutes on the top deck. resulting in many pleading with staff to be allowed to take the eclipse shades with them when they left. Those who arrived after the queue quota was filled had to go to a separate room and watch a live broadcast of the mainland's total solar eclipse instead.