Unique Eclipse To Darken North Pole’s First Day Of Sunshine

Eclipse March 20
The path of totality passes over far more water than land during tomorrow’s total solar eclipse.  Areas outside of totality will see a partial eclipse with varying amounts of the Sun visible depending on location. The eclipse happens during mid-morning hours across central Europe. Credit: Larry Koehn / shadowandsubstance.com

Tomorrow March 20, coincidentally the first day of spring, the moon’s shadow will sweep across the Danish Faroe Islands and darken the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard before setting at the North Pole. It’s a little unusual to have a total solar eclipse occur on an equinox, but one that ends at sunset directly at the North Pole makes it unique.

Global map showing where the eclipse will be visible along with times, which are given in UT or Universal Time. Subtract 4 hours for EDT, 5 for CDT and so on. Credit: Fred Espenak
Global map showing where the eclipse will be visible along with times, which are given in UT or Universal Time. Subtract 4 hours for EDT, 5 for CDT and so on. Click for an interactive map with times for your city. Credit: Fred Espenak

Die-hard totalitarians – utterly the wrong word for those who travel the world to see as many total solar eclipses in one lifetime as possible – are already cozied up in a hamlet in the Faroes or on a ship in the Arctic Ocean near Svalbard, where the weather forecast tomorrow is for partly sunny skies and a high of 0° F (-18° C). For a little more money, some will board a special eclipse jet and fly above the clouds directly within the eclipse path.

Animation of the March 20 total solar eclipse. The small black spot is the umbra or core of the moon's shadow. The larger gray area is the penumbra. Credit: NASA
Animation of the March 20 total solar eclipse. The small black spot is the umbra or core of the moon’s shadow. The larger gray area is the penumbra, where a partial eclipse will be visible. The longest duration of totality – 2 minutes 47 seconds – will occur off the coast of the Faroe Islands. Credit: NASA

“Umbraphile” is the real word for those who crave the moon’s shadow. Because of the distant location and lack of land to stand on, their number will be tiny compared to the millions of regular folk who’ll witness a partial eclipse across all of Europe, the northern third of the African continent, north-central Asia and the Middle East. The farther north you live, the deeper the moon will bite into the Sun.

If I could, I’d opt for the North Pole. It’s been in darkness the past six months with only the glow of twilight in recent weeks. Tomorrow, for the first time since the fall equinox, the sun will poke above the horizon. For a couple minutes during its return, the moon will cover the Sun’s face and polar skies will darken for a brief time.

The view from the north pole will be nothing short of amazing with the Sun setting in total eclipse. Source: Stellarium
The view from the North Pole will be nothing short of amazing with the Sun skimming along the horizon while briefly in total eclipse. Source: Stellarium

Now that sounds like an amazing thing to see. Imagine wintering at the North Pole, waiting 6 months for the Sun’s return, only to see it robbed (temporarily) by the moon getting in the way.

I suppose you wouldn’t complain. After all, a total solar eclipse on the first day of spring at the pole happens only once every 400,000-500,000 years!

Solar eclipses usually happen a few times a year when the new moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun, completely blocking the Sun from view for several minutes of totality. Because the moon’s shadow on Earth is rather narrow – about 125 miles wide – only those living within that strip will see a total eclipse. Far more people will witness a partial eclipse, which will be visible across thousands of miles.

During a solar eclipse, the moon gets directly between Sun and Earth and casts its shadow along a narrow band on our planet's surface. Credit: NASA
During a solar eclipse, the moon gets directly between Sun and Earth and casts its shadow along a narrow band on our planet’s surface. Credit: NASA

Would you like to see the total eclipse as it happens and not spend a cent? SLOOH’s online observatory will stream the event starting at 3:30 a.m. CDT.

Sorry, I should have told you about that little catch. The eclipse happens during morning hours across Europe. That translates to very early morning hours from the U.S. You can also watch it at the Virtual Telescope’s site beginning at 3:15 a.m. CDT.

Head to bed early if you want to see it. I hope to share eclipse photos gathered online tomorrow. The next eclipse, a total lunar, will come at the next full moon on April 4th and be widely visible across the Americas.

9 Responses

  1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

    It will be partial here. Forecast is overcast with possible clear moments. Fingers crossed!

      1. Giorgio Rizzarelli

        Grazie Bob, we’ve been lucky after all. Clouds allowed to photograph and see the eclipse unfiltered as well. I just sent you an email with photos and other news as well (hope it’s not late, just finished to download and select the photos).

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