The moon blotted out the sun Friday across a wide stretch extending from the South Pacific to the Americas, with a precious few witnessing a total eclipse at sea. Thousands more flocked to Central and South America to see the sun reduced to a narrow "ring of fire" around the dark moon.
Several groups beamed live imagery back from the eclipse zone, with mixed results. One Webcast, organized by the University of North Dakota, attracted thousands of viewers during the prime time for the event. "No wonder we are having problems," UND computer science professor Ronald Marsh typed in a chat-room message from Panama.
Web traffic also taxed the Eclipse Live Web site, provided courtesy of Palm Beach Community College in Florida and drawing upon Webcam imagery transmitted back from Panama. A third Webcast site, Live! Eclipse, provided real-time and archived video coverage from Panama, as well as from the Pacific Ocean zone where the eclipse was total.
An unusual hybrid eclipse
Solar eclipses occur when the moon and the sun line up so that the moon casts a shadow on Earth. Friday's event was exceptional because the moon's shadow was at just the right distance to create a total eclipse along the central part of a narrow track — and a ring of fire, or annular eclipse, on the western and eastern ends of the track. Only 5 percent of all eclipses take this hybrid form.
“The sun was about two-thirds obscured when suddenly it clouded over and began to rain,” he told The Associated Press. “It was very disappointing. Still, the early stages were exceptional, and we took some great pictures.”
Hundreds of Bogota schoolchildren watched the moon pass over the sun’s lower half. “I want to become an astronomer after seeing that,” 15-year-old Ricardo Mendoza told AP.
The view from the States
The partial phase of Friday's eclipse was visible across the lower United States — south of a line extending from Southern California to central New Jersey. To those skywatchers, it looked as if the moon was taking a bite out of the sun. People in south Florida had the best view available in the continental United States: Nearly half of the sun’s diameter was covered over at 6:20 p.m. ET, during the peak of the eclipse.
In a Web chat with the North Dakota group, an observer from Oklahoma said the online show was better. "It was only like 5 percent covered here in Tulsa. ... I saw better here on the Webcast," the anonymous chat participant wrote.
Another annular solar eclipse is coming up on Oct. 3 and will be visible from the Iberian Peninsula and across Africa. A total solar eclipse should be visible next March 29 from parts of Africa and Asia. The next total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States will take place on Aug. 21, 2017.
This report includes information from The Associated Press. Check Fred Espenak's NASA Eclipse Home Page for news of upcoming solar and lunar eclipses.
© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints