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It's not just the eclipse that's drawing interest...

By Anand Mohan Sahay in Patna
July 18, 2009 22:56 IST
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Centuries ago, Indian astronomer-mathematician Aryabhatta studied planetary movements and stars from Taregna village in Bihar. Today, hundreds of scientists and eclipse chasers from across the world are arriving in this non-descript village to witness the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century on July 22.

Call it sheer coincidence but it was at this very village, about 35 km from Patna, where the sixth-century Indian scientist used to spend a lot of his time. Amitabh Ghosh, director of Bihar council on science and technology, told that it was here that Aryabhatta first revealed that the earth revolves around the sun and developed the concept of zero.

Aryabhatta's observatory was built on a 20 feet high land at the sun temple that once existed in Taregna. It was from this observatory that he and his team used to gaze at the stars.

According to the US National Aeronautics and Space Agency's observation based on satellite images, the total eclipse -- expected to last three minutes and 48 seconds at Taregna -- will start a little after sunrise on July 22.

NASA predicts that clouds are likely to be less over the region and possibility of watching the eclipse clearly is more here than any other place in India.

Local people believe that their village's name was derived from Tare (stars) and Ginna (counting) in Hindi. The village was one of the two main study centres of Aryabhatta; the other being Khagaul near Patna. It was in Khagaul that the word khagolshashtra (astronomy) was coined.

Not far away from Taregna are two villages -- Bhojpur and Sonkurka. It is believed that Sonkurka derives its name from Sone (red) and kurka (someone having authority on studying plenatary movements). It was from Sonkurka that Aryabhatt and his pupils studied Venus.

In a bid to revive Taregna, an ancient seat of astronomical science, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is keen to making the best use of the celestial spectacle. Kumar has directed to make arrangement for scientists and others to watch the event.

The district administration is busy making last minute preparations at Taregna, setting up temporary public toilets, repairing roads and ensuring round-the-clock power supply and security.

Arrangements for viewing the eclipse for scientists, astro-tourists and dignitaries are being made at a newly constructed government hospital building, hardly a kilometre from Taregna.

Scientists from NASA, Britain, Italy, Germany, France, Tata Institute for Fundamental Research and Council for Scientific and Industrial research are scheduled to arrive at Taregna to study the eclipse.
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Anand Mohan Sahay in Patna