SIDE, Turkey -- Thousands of skygazers gathered in an ancient temple of Apollo and let out cheers yesterday as a total solar eclipse turned day into twilight, casting an eerie blue glow across the sky and the Mediterranean Sea.
NASA astronomers distributed protective glasses to hundreds of Turkish children before the eclipse cut a dark swath across the sky -- a band that stretched from Brazil, across West Africa, Turkey, and Central Asia, then disappeared at sunset in Mongolia.
The last total solar eclipse was in November 2003, but that was best viewed from sparsely populated Antarctica. Yesterday's eclipse blocked the sun in highly populated areas.
In Ghana, automatic street lamps switched on as the light faded, and authorities sounded emergency whistles in celebration. Schoolchildren and others across the capital, Accra, burst into applause.
Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in Iraq were summoned to mosques during the eclipse for a special prayer reserved for times of fear and natural disasters.
In the Turkish resort of Side, a crowd of some 10,000 began cheering and whistling as the moon took its first bite out of the sun.
When the moon masked the sun and Venus suddenly appeared in the blue glow of the darkened sky, another loud cheer went up.
''It's one of those experiences that makes you feel like you're part of the larger universe," said NASA astronomer Janet Luhmann, who witnessed the eclipse from the ruins of an ancient Roman theater a few hundred feet from the temple of Apollo.
It was ''spiritual and emotional," said Brian Faltinson of Victoria, British Columbia, who was watching his second eclipse. ''It just about made me cry."
As the moon covered the sun, the temperature dropped quickly and some skygazers put on sweaters. The sun blackened and a fiery rim surrounded it; the sky turned an eerie dark blue while a bright sunset red could be seen on the horizon.
There was a festive atmosphere in Side, with people gathered on the fallen stones and collapsed columns of the temple dedicated to Apollo -- god of the sun -- or on rocks at a beach about 40 feet away.
A string quintet played classical music at the foot of the temple's five standing pillars and a Turkish brewery distributed free beer. Vendors hawked eclipse T-shirts and at one point, the stargazers began waving to a nearby cruise ship.
''It was a special ambiance," said astronomer Slobodan Ninkovic who drove from Belgrade to Side (pronounced SEE-deh). ''We were inside an ancient city -- it was very impressive."
Children sat on the ruined stone steps of the second-century Roman theater and watched as astronomers from NASA and the San Francisco-based Exploratorium science museum, using large telescope and cameras, broadcast the phenomenon live on the Web.