‘Ring of fire’ amazes Filipinos, elicits stories of faith, myths

Science, old beliefs, and faith in God crossed path on an island in the southern Philippines a day after Christmas when the sun, the earth, and the moon aligned for a rare annular solar eclipse.

People here “don’t usually go out of their houses during an eclipse because of an old belief that it’s an omen,” said Virginia Cawa, mayor of the island town of Balut.

Residents, scientists, and even politicians gathered under the noon time sun on the island’s port where the Philippine Astronomical Society organized an “eclipse viewing” event.

The mood was festive. There was music everywhere.

The excited crowd stood to listen to astronomer and meteorologist Edmund Rosales who talked about the movement of the moon and of the sun.

Never mind if it was noon time, never mind the heat. The people were there to witness the spectacle at 12:45 p.m.

“This is the first time that our town celebrated an event this big,” said the mayor. It was also the first time that an event on the island attracted the attention of the foreign press.

“We always want to share what we know,” said Kashogi Astapan, president of the Philippine Astronomical Society. He said his group aims to educate people about astronomy.

The moon moves in front of the sun in a rare ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse as seen from Balut Island, Saraggani province in the southern island of Mindanao on Dec. 26. (Photo by Ferdinandh Cabrera/AFP)

Marivic Hubac, who works with in the office of governor of Davao Occidental province, turned reflective about the event.

“I thank God for events like this,” she said. “First, it’s because God made everything. The earth, the sun, and the moon came from him,” said Hubac.

“Second, because of these events people get to learn the science behind these (astronomical) events,” she added.

She spoke of how her mother warned her about eclipses when she was pregnant with her first child.

“Full moons are considered lucky among us. During an eclipse, she believed, was when demons come out,” Hubac narrated.

“Our ancestors believe that an eclipse is a marriage of the sun and moon, and it’s considered lucky,” he said.

Biyal Malong, a town councilor, said the eclipse was a “good omen” for the Sangir tribe.

Like Cawa and Hubac, Malong said astronomical events help educate people and debunk myths.

Astronomer Rosales explained that an annular solar eclipse happens when the moon covers the sun’s center, leaving the sun’s visible outer edges to form a “ring of fire.”

“From a normal disc, this rare event will turn the sun into a ring of light,” he said.

Mario Raymundo, head of the astronomical observatory office of the Philippine’s weather bureau, said the last time an annular eclipse was seen in the Philippines was in 1944.

“It may happen again, but that’s after 44 years. I might be dead already,” he said.

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