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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.