August 11, 1999
MOSUL, Iraq (CNN) -- Nearly 4,000 years ago, the ancient Mesopotamians who occupied this land wrote their first astronomical theories on clay tablets.
On Wednesday, Iraqi scientists and university students will gather on a mountaintop in the northern city of Mosul for one of last great natural events of the 20th century -- a total eclipse of the sun.
The eclipse begins at 0931 GMT in Nova Scotia, Canada, and then races across the Atlantic through Europe and the Middle East before dying over India -- all in the span of about three hours.
Iraqi astronomers expect the total eclipse over Mosul to last for about two minutes and a partial eclipse to last two hours and 32 minutes.
"Tomorrow is a big test for us; we're going to take astronomical photos of the eclipse, said Ahmed Hashem Salih, an amateur astronomer. "God help us."
Baghdad urges Iraqis to stay indoors
Most Iraqis won't see the eclipse. The government has urged residents to stay indoors amid fears that looking directly into the sun could cause permanent eye damage.
Iraq is reeling under U.N. trade sanctions imposed after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and special glasses to view the eclipse are hard to come by.
"Before sanctions ... we had dreams to develop a big observatory in Iraq," lamented Mohammad Basil al-Taie, an assistant professor of cosmology.
Iraqi scientists also won't be able to watch the eclipse from planes because U.S. and British planes patrol no-fly zones in north and south Iraq, set up after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Iraq's Kurdish and Shiite minorities.
Regardless, Iraqi astronomers will host colleagues from Syria, Egypt and Libya for a conference following the eclipse.
The Ministry of Information and Culture is taking Western reporters and television networks to Mosul for the event.
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