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Millions Look Skyward As Rare Eclipse Passes

Above: A composite of images of the first annular eclipse seen in the U.S. since 1994 shows several stages, left to right, as the eclipse passes through annularity and the sun changes color as it approaches sunset on May 20, 2012 in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

From a park near Albuquerque, to the top of Japan's Mount Fuji, to the California coast the effect was dramatic: The moon nearly blotting out the sun creating a blazing "ring of fire" eclipse.

Millions of people across a narrow strip of eastern Asia and the Western U.S. turned their sights skyward for the annular eclipse, in which the moon passes in front of the sun leaving only a golden ring around its edges.

The rare lunar-solar alignment was visible in Asia early Monday before it moved across the Pacific - and the international dateline - where it was seen in parts of the western United States late Sunday afternoon.

People from Colorado, Oklahoma and as far away as Canada traveled to Albuquerque to enjoy one of the best vantage points at a park on the edge of the city.

Members of the crowd smiled and cheered and children yelled with excitement as the moon crossed the sun and the blazing halo of light began to form. Some watched the eclipse by placing their viewing glasses on the front of their smartphones.

Eventually, the moon centered and covered about 96 percent of the sun.

"That's got to be the prettiest thing I've ever seen," said Brent Veltri of Salida, Colo.

Elsewhere, viewing parties were held at observatories in Reno, Nev., and Oakland, Calif., while skywatchers gathered in coastal and forest counties in California. In some areas, special camera filters for taking photographs have been sold out for weeks in anticipation of the big event.

Yet, while millions were making an effort to view the eclipse, some American Indians were adhering to tradition by staying indoors.

Navajo Bonnie Charley of Monument Valley in northeast Arizona said she follows her tribe's traditions.

"You're supposed to stay inside," said the 75-year-old Charley, whose father was a medicine man. "No eating, drinking or sleeping. That's for the duration of the eclipse."

She said Navajo traditions surrounding eclipses stem from their beliefs regarding creation.

The eclipse was broadcast live on TV in Tokyo, where such an eclipse hasn't been visible since 1839. Japanese TV crews watched from the top of Mount Fuji and even staked out a zoo south of Tokyo to capture the reaction of the chimpanzees - who didn't seem to notice.

Eclipse tours were arranged in Japan at schools and parks, on pleasure boats and even private airplanes. Similar events were held in China and Taiwan as well, with skywatchers warned to protect their eyes.

A light rain fell on Tokyo as the eclipse began, but the clouds thinned as it reached its peak, providing near perfect conditions.

"It was a very mysterious sight," said Kaori Sasaki, who joined a crowd in downtown Tokyo to watch event. "I've never seen anything like it."

A Japanese zoo said the eclipse apparently made ring-tailed lemurs believe it was evening.

Some 20 lemurs at the Japan Monkey Center in central Japan skipped breakfast, climbed up and jumped between trees and poles, a typical evening behavior, according to the zoo web site. They returned to normal after the eclipse.

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