Eclipse on Friday 20 March, and Britain basking in the Morning Twilight
by Elizabeth Menon

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Eclipse on Friday 20 March, and Britain basking in the Morning Twilight

It was on 11 August 1999 when the last total eclipse happened in Europe and Asia visible to 16 countries, and now on 20 March 2015, it is visible only in Europe and Svalbard in the Arctic Ocean. Scientists and enthusiasts from all around the globe are waiting for this rare phenomenon, either to observe through their telescopes, or from their television screens! There is full Eclipse on the Faroe islands, 200miles north of Scotland and in Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, while the partial eclipse will be seen in Britain and the rest of Europe, around 85% to 98% from around 0830 to 1045 hours. The best place in Britain to watch the eclipse is from the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, where the moon will cover about 98% of the sun, but the total eclipse can only be seen in Faroe Islands or in Svalbard.

The eclipse happens when the sun, moon and the Earth are in a perfect straight line alignment ('Syzygy'), the moon has to be a new moon or a full moon at the 'Lunar node' where the Earth's and the moon's orbits cross. Due to the slight tilt in the moon's orbital plane relative to the Earth's orbit, the moon as it completes the 291/2 days' lunar cycle from one full moon to the other, it appears to be above or below the sun most of the time and hence the eclipse is a rare phenomenon! The experts from all around the globe are eagerly waiting for this rare occasion when the sun is totally blocked, as they hope to study the 'Corona' to see why it is much hotter than the rest of the sun!

Safety first on the morning of twilight in Britain and the rest of Europe or in total eclipse in Faroe Islands and Svalbard – one should never look at the sun during an eclipse. The eclipse-viewing goggles block out the most harmful rays, but according to the experts, a pinhole projector is the best. It can easily be made by punching a tiny hole in a sheet of card and viewing the shadow it casts, which will be a projection of the eclipse. Hold the perforated card above your head, standing with your back to the sun and hold another sheet of white card in front of you where the shadow of the eclipse will be projected. A colander that casts multiple shadows would be even better, used similar to the perforated sheet of card! And the Ophthalmologists and Optometrists warn people that they should not attempt to take photos of the eclipse using the smartphones or the camera, especially 'Selfies', as it can cause damage to the back of the eye, resulting in permanent and incurable solar burn to the retina.

In Britain the sun will appear as a crescent as it is a partial eclipse. The shadows could be seen under the trees, but there are only very few trees with leaves in March, making it rather difficult! The landscape may appear different and the morning may look a bit overcast, almost like twilight but the light will have an eerie effect, and I still remember the eeriness that I felt during the eclipse in 1999 -- a very strange feeling in deed! But if the sky is not clear, it may look as if the clouds have covered the sun, but one can still feel the eeriness in the atmosphere and the birds and the animals also would react strangely!

We watched the eclipse through card board boxes with holes or special goggles when we were children, and there were buckets of water in which cow-dung had been dissolved and left to stand so that the shadow of the eclipse could be watched on the surface of the still water! We were not allowed to eat or drink anything during the eclipse and also there was a belief that the rays of the sun caused an increase in the growth of bacteria causing infection – not sure of the medical explanation for this however! Safety is paramount during an eclipse, as wrong or direct viewing of the eclipse can cause permanent blindness, but it's a rare phenomenon and it is time to enjoy the twilight of the eclipse on this Friday morning, as most of us in UK won't be around for the next total eclipse in 75 years, but there is a partial eclipse in 11 years!

© E Menon



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