Total solar eclipse across Arctic, clouds mar Europe's fun

  • AFP, Longyearbyen, Norway
  • Updated: Mar 21, 2015 11:00 IST

Thousands of people on Friday flocked to get a glimpse of the solar eclipse, with leaden skies marring the view in most places except Europe's remote north where spectators described the sight as "amazing".

Die-hard eclipse enthusiasts who flew in to the Faroe Islands and Norway's Arctic Svalbard archipelago -- the only places where the less than three-minute total eclipse was visible -- were rewarded with the best views.

"We had clouds... but it was still fantastic," said Ole J. Knudsen, an astrophysicist from Denmark's Aarhus University, who watched from hills high above the Faroes capital Torshavn.

"You could see the shadow come up behind the clouds. For 20 to 30 seconds the sky was covered and it became dark and there was a collective shock that you could hear from all the spectators," he said.

"It was worth all the money."

More than 8,000 tourists had gathered in the Faroes, a Danish autonomous territory in the North Atlantic. The views were equally breathtaking in Svalbard's main town Longyearbyen.

To a background din of yelping sled dogs and in bracing bracing -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) morning air, Kathy Biersdorff, from Calgary in Canada, and her companions shouted out what they saw: "Crescent shadows! Diamond ring! Chromosphere! Moon's shadow."

An eclipse of varying degrees was first visible across northern Africa, most of Europe, northwest Asia and then the Middle East.

Partial solar eclipse over the Arc of the General Staff building in St.Petersburg

'Worth the money'

Spain's Canary Islands were one of the first places the partial eclipse was visible, early Friday.

"We can see perfectly well the disc of the moon... It is one of the most marvellous astronomical spectacles you can see," Alfred Rosenberg, an astrophysicist at the Canaries Astrophysics Institute told AFP from the island of Tenerife.

In the Swedish capital Stockholm, a crescent-shaped sun shone through overcast skies as temperatures dropped, prompting people in the city's business district to stop and take pictures with their smartphones.

But elsewhere, observers were disappointed by the grey skies that ruined their view.

"Well, that was it. Cheeringly, by the time the next eclipse happens in Britain we'll all be dead," tweeted Mark Wallace in Britain.

In London, where the moon covered approximately 84 percent of the sun, a lively crowd of around 500 people gathered in Regent's Park to savour the moment.

As with previous eclipses experts warned the public not to look directly at the sun due to the danger of eye damage, and a police officer handed out special glasses.

Polar bear threat

In Svalbard, which is just emerging from four months of winter darkness, hotels were fully-booked for years ahead of the event, the 10th solar eclipse of the 21st century.

In the Arctic archipelago, where everything is extreme, visitors also contended with the threat of roaming polar bears.

Total eclipses occur when the moon moves between Earth and the Sun, and the three bodies align precisely.The moon as seen from Earth is just broad enough to cover the solar face, creating a breath-taking silver halo in an indigo sky pocked by daytime stars.

The next total solar eclipse visible from Europe is not due until August 12, 2026.

Next: Supermoon

Another celestial phenomenon is also expected on Friday.Earth's satellite will appear as a "supermoon," which happens at its closest point to our planet, its perigee.

This, and the moon's alignment with the sun, will add to the gravitational pull on the seas -- creating what is literally a high point in the 18-year lunar cycle.

The celestial ballet will on Saturday result in major tides most perceptible in Canada's Bay of Fundy, on the French Atlantic coast, in the English Channel and North Sea -- but even the Mediterranean will feel the difference.

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