Solar Eclipse 2015: First Spring-time eclipse in three centuries declared a ‘partial … –

Posted: Friday, March 20, 2015

The first Spring-time solar eclipse in three centuries thrilled sky-watchers across the British Isles and Europe, despite cloud cover ruining the celestial spectacle for millions of others.

It was at its most spectacular in the Faroe Islands – between Scotland and Iceland – and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, where the skies were plunged into total darkness by a complete solar eclipse.

The islands were hit by a 100-mile wide ‘totality’ shadow, which swept across the North Atlantic and turned day into night for nearly three minutes at 9.46am.

Shortly beforehand the UK experienced its own ‘partial’ eclipse when the moon covered the sun’s face by up to 97 per cent in some areas, casting an ‘eerie’ twilight across the nation.

As the skies dimmed, birds went quiet before delivering a “mid-morning dawn chorus’, and temperatures fell by as much as 5c in some places.

Wildlife Trusts spokesperson Mike Pratt said: “Wildlife was confused and prepared for night.”

The best views were under cloud-free skies, mainly in parts of the west country, eastern and northern Scotland and the Midlands.

In Hambrook, South Gloucestershire, amateur astronomer Ralph Wilkins described the “eerie” feeling as a chilly gloom descended and shadows sharpened.

Ralph Wilkins, from the London-based Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, said: “The sky started clearing just after first contact and we were able to watch the moon glide in front of the sun.

“It was a unique experience – eerie is the right word for it.

“The shadows started to sharpen and everything began to develop this yellowish hue.

“Whenever there’s a solar eclipse in the UK you tend to get cloud, so to be treated to clear skies was really wonderful.

“It really was beautiful. We were all thrilled.”

In Edinburgh around 200 people gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to watch the eclipse.

In Bristol, students Greg Robertson, 19, and Sam Firminger, 20, stood by the Clifton Observatory with a home-made, giant cardboard pinhole camera and a bottle of champagne.

History student Mr Roberston said: ”It is a few in a lifetime type of thing.”

Standing stones added to the atmosphere at Stonehenge, Wilts, and on the Isle of Lewis, with clouds parting at both locations to allow people to witness the event.

However many others were left disappointed.

Around 1,000 people gathered in nearby Regent’s Park for an event organised by the Royal Astronomical Society were thwarted by the clouds.

Simon Bennett said: “We’ve been unlucky, but that is what astronomy is – you can’t guarantee anything.”

In Eastbourne, East Sussex, complete cloud cover also spoiled the eclipse for dozens of people including a number of children who had been given time off school.

The eclipse affected a large part of the northern hemisphere, including Europe, Greenland, Newfoundland, northern Africa and western Asia.

On the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean, around 2,000 sky-watchers braved -20c temperatures and roaming polar bears to witness a total eclipse.

A further 8,000 tourists arrived on the Danish-owned Faroe Islands on special cruise shops.

One of them was Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), who said:”Everyone was delighted – we had a beautiful view.

“We saw the corona, the diamond ring caused by the last bit of the sun at the edge of the eclipse, and prominences – eruptions of hydrogen from the surface of the sun.”

Amazing: The eclipse next to the iconic Liver Bird in Liverpool

Cruise ships also stopped in Iceland where sun was 98% covered by the moon and where officials had imported 72,000 specially tinted glasses for the event.

At least 20 private jets flew above Iceland to witness the event.

In Moscow’s Gorky Park hundreds of people turned out to see the sun obscured by 65% at the peak of the eclipse.

The last solar eclipse of such significance to affect the UK occurred on August 11 1999, and was “total” – with 100% of the sun covered – when seen from Cornwall.

Another “deep” partial eclipse visible in the UK will not occur until August 12, 2026, and the next total eclipse not until September 2090.

The eclipse was dubbed a ‘super eclipse’ because it coincided with the Spring Equinox, when day time is the same as night-time, and when the moon is at its closest point to the Earth.

Dr Sheila Kanani, of the Royal Astronomical Society’s, said: “It was a brilliant spectacle for those lucky enough to see it.

“We’ve been sent some fantastic photos of it from all over the country.”

However, the grey skies helped trigger one of the decade’s biggest power surges as up to 10 million watched the event on BBC1.

Ratings analysts the edition of Stargazing Live would have seen viewing figures rocket after cloud prevented up to 40million Brits from seeing the eclipse themselves.

The National Grid saw a giant 2GW power surge – equivalent to 3.2million Brits turning on TVs and kettles at the same time, during the eclipse.

Spokeswoman Gilly West said: “It was the ‘cup of tea’ effect as people turned on TVs, kettles, heating and lights. We coped fine.”

An economist calculated that workers trying to catch a glimpse of the solar eclipse cost the British economy a staggering £108 million.

Southampton University’s Dr Alessandro Mennuni worked out that if 30million workers all took a 20 minute break costing employers £3.60 on average for their employees, the nation lost £180m.

Dr Mennuni said: “There is a loss of production but people enjoy seeing something spectacular and something that makes them happy.”


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