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World gives hearty welcome to 2010

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In Times Square, up to 1 million people welcome 2010 with famous ball drop
  • Though weighing 11,875 pounds, the sparkling sphere was more energy-efficient
  • 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 at 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday. Revelers counted down the final seconds of a decade that many were happy to bid farewell to.

Though it seemed the whole world was packed into a small portion of Manhattan, celebrations were spread across the globe.

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 moved like a wave from east to west as midnight joyously 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.

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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.

Always up for a party, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was among the first places in the Western Hemisphere to say hello to 2010.

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 were 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 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 was tight. Police searched garages and subway tunnels for bombs, trash cans were removed and mailboxes and manhole covers were 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. These days, 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."

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