Total Solar Eclipse to Dazzle Arctic Circle on Friday


This week, the moon will completely cover the disk of the sun, creating a solar eclipse that only a small part of the world can see.

The March 20 total solar eclipse event will be the first since Nov. 3, 2013. The dark umbral shadow cone of the moon will trace a curved path primarily over the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, beginning off the southern tip of Greenland and then winding its way counterclockwise to the northeast, passing between Iceland and the United Kingdom.

The shadow will then pass over the Danish-owned Faroe Islands, the sparsely inhabited Norwegian island group of Svalbard and then it will hook counterclockwise toward the northwest, where it leaves the Earth’s surface just short of the North Pole.

If you don’t have the chance to see the solar eclipse in person, you can catch it live online as well. The online Slooh Community Observatory will broadcast live views of the solar eclipse through its website, beginning at 4:30 a.m. EDT (0830 GMT).

You can also watch the total solar eclipse webcast on on March 20, courtesy of Slooh.The Virtual Telescope Project will also air live views of the eclipse through the project’s website beginning at 4 a.m. EDT (0800 GMT), and it will also be carried on if possible.

The Faroes are an island group consisting of 18 major islands with a total area of approximately 540 square miles (1,400 square kilometers) and a population of almost 50,000 people. The islands are rugged and rocky with some low peaks; the coasts are mostly cliffs.

The point of greatest eclipse occurs about 162 miles (260 km) north of the Faroes, in the Norwegian Sea. By the standards of most eclipses, the moon’s shadow projected onto the Earth’s surface for this event will resemble a huge ellipse of darkness measuring about 288 miles (463 km) wide by 93 miles (150 km) long.

These unusual dimensions can be attributed in part to the fact that about 13.5 hours earlier, the moon will arrive at that point in its orbit closest to Earth (perigee), 222,192 miles (357,584 km) away. And because the shadow is passing over the Arctic, it will strike the Earth at a very oblique angle, resulting in its distinct elliptical shape. (Solar eclipse enthusiast Michael Zeller created aninteresting animation showing the eclipse’s path.)

About a half hour after leaving the Faroes, the shadow makes its next — and final — landfall at Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. Situated north of mainland Europe, it is about midway between continental Norway and the North Pole. The largest island is Spitsbergen, followed by Nordaustlandet and Edgeøya. Other than the research stations located at Alert, Nunavut and Nord, Greenland, Svalbard is the northernmost place in the world with a permanent population. Based on the most recent census, only 2,642 people live there.