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UK skies set to dim in decade’s deepest solar eclipse

Last Updated on Friday, 13 March 2015 11:16
Published on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 18:56

On 20 March a total eclipse of the Sun will take place, visible from the North Atlantic Ocean. Observers in the UK and Ireland will see a partial solar eclipse, with up to 97% of the Sun blocked out. This will be the deepest eclipse in the UK since 1999 and until 2026.

Egypt eclipse 2006 rotated Baskill smallThe partial phase of the total eclipse of 2006, rotated to match the appearance of the March 2015 eclipse from the south of England. Credit: D. Baskill. Click to enlarge.Total solar eclipses take place when the Earth, Moon and Sun are almost precisely aligned and the shadow of the Moon touches the surface of the Earth. At mid-eclipse, observers within the lunar shadow briefly see totality, where the silhouette of the Moon completely covers the Sun, revealing the beautiful outer solar atmosphere or corona. Totality is visible this time along a track a few hundred kilometres wide, which only intersects two landmasses, the Faroe Islands midway between Scotland and Iceland, and the arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Observers in those locations will see between two and two-and-a-half minutes of totality.

Away from the path of the total eclipse the Sun is only partly obscured by the Moon. This time the partial eclipse is visible across a large part of the northern hemisphere, including the whole of Europe, Greenland, Newfoundland, northern Africa and western Asia.

In London the partial phase of the eclipse begins at 08:25 GMT. Maximum eclipse is at 09:31 GMT when 85% of the Sun will be blocked. The eclipse ends at 10:41 GMT. Further north in the British Isles, observers enjoy an even better view. From Edinburgh 93% of the Sun will be covered and from Lerwick in the Shetland Isles, the Moon will obscure 97% of the solar disk.

Although eclipses of the Sun are spectacular events, they should NOT be viewed with the unaided eye except during the brief period of totality, which this time will not be visible anywhere in the UK. Despite a large part of the solar disk being covered, looking at the partially eclipsed Sun without appropriate protection can cause serious and permanent damage to the eyes.

ESAC eclipse 2005 pinholes smallAn astronomer looking at crescents of the partially eclipsed Sun, projected through ‘pinhole cameras’ of dappled sunlight between the leaves of a tree. This image was made during the first partial stage of the annular total eclipse visible in Spain in 2005. Credit: D. Baskill. Click to enlarge.The Royal Astronomical Society is backing the stance of Public Health England and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, who are warning about the risk of eye damage from looking at the Sun. With the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), the RAS has produced a booklet on how to safely view the eclipse that suggests a number of ways to project the solar image rather than looking at the Sun directly.

On the morning of 20 March, amateur astronomical societies and public observatories will be running events where members of the public can safely enjoy the eclipse. The RAS and the Baker Street Irregular Astronomers (BSIA) will be running a joint (free) event in Regent’s Park, central London, where members of the public can come and view the eclipse using appropriate equipment at no cost.

 

 
Further information

With support from the Society for Popular Astronomy, the RAS has produced a guide to safely viewing solar eclipses.

Other useful links:

 

Media contacts

Dr Robert Massey
Deputy Executive Secretary
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
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Dr Sheila Kanani
Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x207
Mob: +44 (0)794 730 8616
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Dr Keith Smith
Deputy Press Officer
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x209
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Ralph Wilkins
Baker Street Irregular Astronomers
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Matthew Pardo
Senior Press Officer
Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Public Health England
Tel: +44 (0)1235 825406
Mob: +44 (0)7795 452392
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Liz Price
Communications Manager
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists
Tel: +44 (0)20 3770 5327
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Images and captions

 

Notes for editors

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3800 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others. Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc

The Baker Street Irregular Astronomers (BSIA) formed in 2010 as central London’s astronomical society. We encourage people of all backgrounds to enjoy the night skies and work to educate the public about practical astronomy. With more than 2,000 members, we are the fastest growing astronomical society in the UK. We have demonstrated that even light polluted city skies are rewarding to an ever expanding loose membership of 'Irregulars', who pay neither dues nor admission fees to enjoy our events.

The BSIA was founded on the principles of being 'Fun Free For Everyone' and welcomes hundreds of stargazers of all abilities to Regent's Park each month for observing meetings and special events such as eclipses, visible asteroid fly-bys and transits in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. Follow the BSIA on Twitter and Facebook

Public Health England exists to protect and improve the nation's health and wellbeing, and reduce health inequalities. It does this through world-class science, knowledge and intelligence, advocacy, partnerships and the delivery of specialist public health services. PHE is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the Department of Health. Follow PHE on Twitter and Facebook.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) is the only professional body for eye doctors, who are medically qualified and have undergone or are undergoing specialist training in the treatment and management of eye disease, including surgery. As an independent charity, we pride ourselves on providing impartial and clinically based evidence, putting patient care and safety at the heart of everything we do. Ophthalmologists are at the forefront of eye health services because of their extensive training and experience.  

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists received its Royal Charter in 1988 and has a membership of over 3,500 consultants of all grades. We are not a regulatory body, but we work collaboratively with government, health, charity and other organisations in eye health to recommend and support improvements in the co-ordination and management of eye care both nationally and regionally.

Follow the RCOphth on Twitter