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New Year's revelers have a blast

  • In Times Square, huge crowds welcomes 2010 with famous ball drop
  • Crowds in London gather to hear Big Ben strike midnight, watch the London Eye fireworks
  • Horns blare in Auckland, New Zealand

(CNN) -- At least 1 million people marked the passing of another year at the iconic ball drop in New York's Times Square, despite an early morning dusting of snow and late-night freezing rain.

With the help of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and students from 12 city high schools, the dazzling crystal ball began its descent Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET. Revelers counted down the final seconds of the decade.

The New Year got under way with blasting horns and fireworks shot from the Sky Tower as revelers partied Friday morning in Auckland, New Zealand.

Similar celebrations were moving like a wave from east to west as midnight struck across the globe, starting at the International Date Line in the mid-Pacific Ocean.

Throngs danced to pounding rock 'n' roll music and cheered a spectacular 12-minute fireworks display over the picturesque Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia. A giant bell rang before a huge crowd in Seoul, South Korea.

Crowds across Europe braved near-freezing temperatures to ring in 2010. In London, England, people gathered along the banks of the River Thames to hear Big Ben strike midnight and watch a fireworks display at the London Eye. A multicolored light show at The Eiffel Tower dazzled crowds in Paris, France.

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In New York, security was tight for Thursday night's iconic ball drop. After the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines plane over Detroit, Michigan, security forces are on high alert.

"We want people to have a happy experience. But we are also concerned about a terrorist event. We have to do that after 9/11," New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

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New York police estimated a million people had already filled the square by early Thursday evening.

Weighing 11,875 pounds, the sparkling sphere features 2,668 crystals woven into a triangular pattern and is powered by 32,256 LED lights. It is capable of producing a kaleidoscopic array of 16 million vibrant colors and billions of patterns, according to the event's official Web site.

This New Year's ball is also be greener, consuming 10 to 20 percent less energy than last year's ball and 78 percent less energy than the 2007 ball. It uses the equivalent amount of energy per hour as two traditional home ovens.

The 2010 numerals are also more energy efficient, as Duracell Batteries set up a lab in which visitors ride stationary bikes to provide the power to light the numbers on the ball.

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Times Square has served as one of the most popular sites of New Year's festivities since 1904, though the New Year's Eve ball made its inaugural drop down the flagpole at One Times Square in 1907. That first ball, built with iron and wood, featured a hundred 25-watt light bulbs and was designed by Jacob Starr, a young immigrant metalworker.

The New Year's Eve ball has beamed every year since with the exceptions of 1942 and 1943, when America was embroiled in World War II and New York City observed a city-wide "dimout" to cut energy costs.

As in previous years, security is tight. Police are searching garages and subway tunnels for bombs, trash cans are being removed, and mailboxes and manhole covers are being sealed. Detectives were asking hotel and restaurant personnel if they had noticed any suspicious people or activity.

See images from Times Square

Law enforcement officials have a number of tools at their disposal to help combat potential crime and terrorism, including sniper teams, bomb-sniffing dogs, infrared radar-equipped helicopters, and radiation detectors on New York's waterways, Kelly said.

In the years before terrorism was a concern inside the United States, the Times Square celebration was a rowdy affair, fueled by copious amounts of alcohol, often transported via backpack. Today, alcohol and backpacks are banned from the area on New Year's Eve, and revelers are herded into 2,500-person pens, but the mood is festive nonetheless.

New Yorker Julio Ortiz-Teissonniere, a CNN iReporter, said he's too jaded to take part in the spectacle, but that wasn't always the case.

"When the ball drops, it's like an earthquake," he said. "The amount of people screaming and stomping -- it's amazing."

According to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, revelers can expect Times Square to be "the most heavily guarded piece of real estate in the world" Thursday night. Both uniformed and plain-clothes police officers were patrolling the crowds, keeping an eye out for pick pockets and revelers who might have had too much to drink.

Plain-clothes officers would pinpoint any troublemakers, allowing uniformed officers to arrest and remove them from the crowd, Browne said.

Snipers were perched on rooftops, bomb sniffing canine units patrolled the crowds and counter-terrorist intelligence forces were on hand, equipped with radiation detectors. Cars were restricted from driving through the area, and several barriers along with police officers blocked cars in-place throughout the area.

The FAA has put an air restriction in place over New York City for the celebration; however police helicopters as well as helicopters from the news media will be allowed to fly overhead and monitor the crowds.

A security scare at Times Square Wednesday involving a suspicious white van halted traffic and forced the evacuation of several nearby buildings, including the Nasdaq Stock Exchange's MarketSite. Though a false alarm, the scare highlighted the sense of alert in the area at this time of year.

"We know any time in our post-9/11 world when large numbers of people get together, we've got to do certain things -- we have to do extra things that weren't done in the past," Kelly said.

People began securing standing space as early at 6 a.m. Thursday morning in Times Square and snow began to blanket the city shortly after 8 a.m. Weather forecasters expect New York CIty to receive a steady mix of snow and rain throughout Thursday evening and Friday morning.

"Tourists come in and see it as part of the New York experience and indeed it is. It is sort of the total package," he said. "When the ball drops, you get a feeling of relief that you made it through another year."

CNN's Allan Chernoff, Jim Kavanagh, Jesse Solomon, Jamie Guzzardo and Katie Hawkins-Gaar contributed to this report.