Abu Dhabi: After 172 years, the UAE finally got to experience an annular solar eclipse during the early hours of Thursday morning, with sky gazers turning out in large numbers to witness the historical celestial event.

Dubbed the ‘Ring of Fire’ due to the appearance created by the moon as it passes in front of the sun, leaving only the edges of the sun’s light visible, the eclipse was fully visible from the Liwa desert area in Abu Dhabi, with the UAE Space Agency holding an event in the area for astronomy enthusiasts.

The last time the celestial show took place in the UAE was all the way back in 1847, with this year’s eclipse also passing through neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

“It’s great to see so many people coming out to watch this rare solar eclipse considering its early timing and our location out here all the way in Liwa,” said Dr Mohammad Nasser Al Ahbabi, director general of the UAE Space Agency, who was also among the crowd watching the eclipse from Liwa.

“It’s important for a space agency like ourselves to organise events like this because we are bringing awareness and education on space. The people who come out and watch this event will have questions like why and how this is happening, and that will lead to even more questions and so we’re initiating the discussion,” he added.

Al Ahbabi said that organised events like the eclipse viewing across the UAE made him positive on how the UAE’s space and astronomy scene was progressing.

“I like space and I like astronomy, so I was very excited just like everybody else for this event. It makes me very proud and excited to see how far our space scene is coming, and our plan is to do even more.

“The UAE is now one of the leading small countries in what they call emerging space nations, and so we want to try and set a model for the region, to inspire other countries here in this region that through science and technology this region can regain its reputation and contribution to humanity,” he added, explaining his belief on how space science can advance the interests for the entire Middle East.

Like Star Wars

For Indian resident Mukesh Katara, who made the more than three-hour drive to Liwa from Dubai with his wife and two young sons; the solar eclipse was like watching something straight out of a sci-fi film.

“It’s my first time to actually see a solar eclipse and I thought it was truly amazing, it was almost like watching one of those famous space films, I felt like I was in the movie Star Wars as I watched the moon slowly moving in front of the sun.

“The long drive from 2am in the morning was well worth it, this is a once in a lifetime experience to have with the entire family. My two sons were excited the whole time and they didn’t even sleep during the car journey because they were looking forward to watching this spectacle,” he added.

His wife Palak also shared the sentiment about the event even though it was her second time to watch a solar eclipse.

“I have watched a solar eclipse when I was younger but that still doesn’t take away from how fantastic it is to be able to witness this in person,” she said.

“This is something you just can’t buy, it’s a very unique event that you have come and see for yourself if you’re lucky enough to have the chance. The view when the moon comes right in front of the sun forming that perfect ring shape is stunning and what really stood out for me,” she added.

Filipino resident Irene Pelaez, who also drove all the way from Dubai with her family, said it was an emotional experience for her.

“It was quite emotional for me when I was watching the solar eclipse, I just felt in awe of what I was witnessing, especially when the ring of fire appearance starts taking shape.

“I brought my nine-year old son along as well to create a nice memory for him. This isn’t something you get to see on a regular basis so he’s lucky that he gets to experience this at such a young age, and hopefully it can inspire him,” she added.

And for her son Miguel, the experience he said was one he wasn’t going to forget.

“I’m a big fan of space so I was really fascinated about coming here and watching the moon passing in front of the sun. It was a lot of fun and I’m happy that I got to see the eclipse with my whole family. It would be amazing if we could watch one every year.”

Michael Mufti, from Jordan, said he came from Abu Dhabi with his two daughters to watch the event, which he described as beautiful.

“We decided to come here after hearing about it on the news and so I thought it would be a good new experience for the children to have,” he said. “It’s amazing to see the moon going across the sun because it’s not an everyday occurrence, this is a rare and unique event, and even more so here in the UAE considering how long it’s been,” he added.

“The moment the ring of fire appeared was very beautiful and made the whole trip satisfactory; we’re very happy that we made it,” he added.