A dramatic view of the partially eclipsed Sun rising on 4 January 2011, made by amateur astronomer Nick Howes. Cloud cover blocked the view of the eclipse from much of the UK, but some observers were able to glimpse the event through fleeting gaps in otherwise overcast skies. Other images of the eclipse (via Flickr)
Solar eclipses happen between two and five times each year, when the Earth, Moon and Sun are almost precisely aligned. Druing an eclipse the Moon (at New phase) blocks out some or all of the photosphere, the bright surface of the Sun that emits 99% of its light.
From the UK the next partial eclipse will take place on 20 March 2015. On that date locations in northern Scotland will see the Moon appear to cover more than 96% of the Sun. The best views will be from the Faroe Islands and the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, where the eclipse will be total.