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‘Breathtaking’ solar eclipse witnessed by millions

A great swathe of the Earth’s surface was plunged into darkness as the Moon came between us and the Sun.

From an aeroplane above the Faroe Islands, a BBC camera crew captured startling footage of the event reaching totality at 09:41 GMT.

The deep shadow formed first in the North Atlantic and then swept up into the Arctic, ending at the North Pole.

Brilliant beads

People keen to catch a glimpse of the rare phenomenon were advised not to look directly at it.

Looking directly at the Sun can cause serious harm, and skywatchers were directed to the multiple ways to catch an eclipse safely and in comfort.

In all parts of the UK, the eclipse reached at least 83%, with the darkness peaking at about 09:35 GMT. The precise timing and degree of the eclipse varied with location.

For the Shetland Islands, the eclipse was at its height at 09:43 GMT and was very near total, with 97% of the Sun’s disc obscured by the Moon.

For those caught under cloudy skies, the internet was a good option to see the eclipse.

Scientific agencies had planes and even satellites gathering video to relay on the web and on television.

In the UK, the weather turned out to be slightly better than anticipated, with clouds breaking in many places at just the right time. London and the South East, on the other hand, just saw their grey day get slightly gloomier.

Experiencing a genuine total eclipse required a trip north of the British Isles – such as the flight taken by a BBC camera crew and Stargazing Live’s Liz Bonnin, above the clouds in the Faroes.

“We have a pretty spectacular view,” Bonnin said. “This is extraordinary.”

That footage revealed interesting features of the eclipse, including a clear view of “Baily’s beads”. These are the sparkles of light seen at the very edge of the Moon, where its rugged landscape allows the last rays of sunlight to peak through before full obscuration.

Few land areas were directly in the path of the Moon’s deepest shadow – its so-called umbra – and seabirds probably had the some of the most dramatic eclipse experiences.

The period of greatest darkness – nearly three minutes – occurred over a spot in the Norwegian Sea, a little below the Arctic Circle, at 09:46 GMT.

Many professional and amateur astronomers positioned themselves in the Faroe Islands, where the capital city of Torshavn got totality for a full two minutes, beginning just before 09:41 GMT.

And those who could not book a flight or a hotel for the Faroes went to Svalbard, where the capital city of Longyearbyen witnessed two and a half minutes of totality, starting shortly after 10:10 GMT.

Irrespective of the cloud cover, scientists said citizens could still help them with their research.

A University of Reading team wants to learn more about how the atmosphere behaves as the Moon’s shadow runs over the Earth.

The National Eclipse Weather Experiment (NEWEx) asked people to record conditions at their locality.

Prof Giles Harrison explained: “This is the first big partial eclipse to happen in the UK since 1999, and the next one isn’t until August 2026, so this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

“By observing what happens on Friday we are effectively turning the skies of Britain into a giant weather lab, giving us a rare chance to see what happens when you ‘turn down the Sun’.

“This will give us a precious insight into how the Sun influences the clouds and wind, as well as more obvious effects, such as temperature.

“By improving our understanding of how the weather works, we’re better able to predict it, meaning scientists can further improve weather forecasts.”

Eclips-2015.5One phenomenon the experiment hopes to investigate is the “eclipse wind”. This refers to changes in the breeze that eclipse observers have reported as darkness falls.

Oxford University scientists, meanwhile, are using the event to try to understand how eclipses affect electricity grids.

The deep shadow will have reduced the output from solar panels, which now supply a significant proportion of power needs right across Europe.

The researchers will look to see how this dip in performance impacted the stability of grid networks.

Next year will have a total solar eclipse, too.

That will occur on 9 March, and will cross Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, and extend out over the Pacific.

The UK will not experience a solar eclipse on this scale again until 2026.


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