Celestial Spectacles: A “Supermoon” Solar Eclipse On March 20th

Night Sky 2
Image Credit: Andy Holmes

This month a total eclipse of the sun will occur on Friday 20th March, which happens to coincide with the vernal equinox, a time of year symbolic of a seasonal change from winter to spring in the northern hemisphere, and from summer to autumn in southern latitudes. Equinox means “equal night”, and at this point in the year the day and night have equal hours, after which time the days start to grow longer, and the nights shorter.

A “Supermoon” Total Solar Eclipse

Solar eclipses can be observed whenever the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth and blocks the sun’s rays resulting in either a partial or total eclipse, although technically speaking it is still a total solar eclipse so long as is total at some place on the earth during the celestial spectacle. On 20th March the moon will appear larger than usual, too, as it will be one of six supermoons to occur in 2015, which is a grand name to call the moon whenever its orbit places it closest to Earth. Interestingly, solar eclipses outnumber lunar eclipses (earth between sun and moon) by roughly 3 to 2, and each year at least 4 eclipses must take place, of which a minimum of two must be solar eclipses. However, the most extreme number of eclipses that can take place in a calendar year is 7.

Where To See The Solar Eclipse

The solar eclipse on Friday March 20th is a mid-morning occurrence (07:41 UTC to 11:50 UTC), that can been seen as a total solar eclipse from high northern latitudes such as Northern Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands, but as a partial eclipse with up to 90% of sunlight blocked from Europe, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Northwestern Asia. The good news, however, is that while the path of totality where total eclipses are seen are typically 100 miles wide and covers less than 1% of our planet’s entire surface area, the upcoming eclipse will be 303 miles wide. Therefore, while totality of the solar eclipse will be 2 minutes 47 seconds, the partial eclipse will span nearly two hours, and in London will begin at 8.45am GMT, peak at 9.31am and end at 10.41am. Don’t forget to wear some proper eye protection, or use a solar filter with your telescope, though, as its never a good idea to expose your eyes to direct sunlight, even for just a few seconds.

Serious Power Outage In Europe?

Throughout ancient history, an eclipse was often seen as an ill omen, and its etymology is from the ancient Greek word ekleipsis, meaning an abandoning, or failing to appear. These days we tend to regard them more as a rare astronomical phenomenon to enjoy as the Earth is suddenly plunged into daytime darkness. Nevertheless, the upcoming eclipse will probably be felt worse by Europe in general, and Germany in particular, which receive 3% and 7% respectively of their electricity from solar energy. When the eclipse hits, all their solar panels will suddenly experience a sudden decline in power generation, perhaps causing a temporary wave of blackouts, only at the end of the eclipse to be flooded with a surge of surplus energy. Moreover, all this will occur at a time of day when energy demand is rising.

Claire Camus, spokeswoman for the European Network Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E) has even described the upcoming solar eclipse as “an unprecedented test for Europe’s electricity system,” and says it will be ready to respond to any situation that may occur, including moving power to affected countries.

“Ahead of March 20, and during the eclipse, Transmission System Operators will put in place continuous on line coordination between control rooms across Europe to better coordinate the scheduled.. actions,” explained Camus in her statement.

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