Researchers from across the world are travelling to the north
Atlantic in preparation for the region’s first total solar eclipse since 1999, due to take place on 20
Meteorologists, solar astronomers, ecologists and others will
descend on Svalbard, the Faroe Islands and the north of Scotland to
study the effects of the eclipse on their respective fields.
The eclipse will completely obscure the Sun for almost three
minutes in the Nordic archipelagoes of the Faroe islands and
Svalbard. It also happens to coincide with the northward equinox,
the first sighting of the Sun at the north pole for six months.
Coverage will hit 98 percent on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer
There, the Stornoway Astronomical Society (SAS) is holding a
public viewing at the Callanish Stones. Organisers have reportedly
ordered a hundred pairs of eclipse glasses in preparation. “The
interest is unbelievable. We’ve had inquiries from Southampton,
Portsmouth, Dublin, Cork and even Munich,” said Donny Mackay,
president of the SAS in an interview with the Guardian.
Further south, there’ll still be plenty to see. In Scotland, the
moon will hide 90 percent of the Sun, and in London it’ll be 85
percent. Meteorologists from the University of Reading are recruiting citizen scientists from across the country to
make weather observations during the event.
The aim of the project, which is called NEWEx, is to find out
what the impact of the dimmer Sun is on our atmosphere. Temperature
drops are expected, as well as changes to the clouds and wind.
Schools, as well as anyone else interested, are invited to
contribute readings of temperature, wind direction and speed, and
cloud cover in a spreadsheet
specially set up for the project. Astronomers in
Luton have also requested that
eclipse-spotters keep an eye on local wildlife and birds and note
the effects of the eclipse.
For solar scientists, the best place to do their work will be
the landmasses that’ll achieve eclipse totality. In an impressive
cosmic coincidence, the size of the moon and its distance from
Earth are such that it’s almost exactly the same size as the Sun in
the sky, meaning that eclipses are the perfect time to study the
corona of the Sun — its outer atmosphere — while the brightness
of the star’s central mass is temporarily blotted out.
The corona is far hotter than the rest of the Sun — about one
or two million degrees Kelvin, compared to 6,000 Kelvin at the
surface. One of the big mysteries of astronomy is why this is the
case, and it’s hoped that the event may allow scientists to test
Finally, engineers will be keeping a close eye on the effect of
the eclipse on Europe’s power systems. The European Union has about
90 Gigawatts of solar power, and this may drop by 34 Gigawatts if
the sky is clear. It’s the first time that an eclipse has had so
significant an effect on the power system of the continent, so the
electricity sector is taking measures to mitigate the impact.
In Britain, the eclipse will begin on 20 March starting at about
8.25am and end at 10.41am with the maximum extent at 9.31am. If you
miss it, the next will be on 13 September 2015, but will only be
visible from South Africa and Antarctica, followed by one over
Australasia on 9 March 2016.