The “supermoon” will move between the sun and the Earth on Friday in an event that will darken the skies above Northern Europe. According to astronomers, this type of eclipse is so rare it will occur only three times more this century.
A solar eclipse is to take place in the morning on March 20, but only a small part of the world will get the experience of a “totality”, or full eclipse, with a partial few-hour-long eclipse in store for residents of Europe, North Africa and West Asia. Its path will start in Greenland and move across the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans mostly.
The moon’s position is currently at its closest to the Earth – this is usually dubbed “supermoon”. It is believed that this will make the eclipse particularly jaw-dropping in the Faroe Islands and in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, where the occlusion of the sun will reach nearly 100 percent.
The rest of the Norwegians and the Scots will be lucky enough to eyewitness around a 90 to 95 percent occlusion, while in the south of the UK, an 85 percent occlusion (approximately) will be best observed at 09.30am GMT. In Paris and Berlin the best time to lift your eyes to the skies will be at 10.30am local time.
However, it is better not to look directly at the sun – even wearing dark sunglasses – as you run the risk of permanent eye damage. So, sky gazers are advised to make a basic pinhole projector, and face away from the sun, or to wear eclipse glasses.
An online broadcast of the celestial event could be watched via the Slooh Community Observatory’s website (slooh.com) starting at 08.30 am GMT. Moscow residents will be able to enjoy a special live stream in the center of the city, and in the underground as well, from 7:00pm until midnight local time.
Hundreds of astronomers have already gathered on Svalbard, where the sun will be completely obscured. The rare phenomenon will provide them with a unique opportunity to study the corona, or the atmosphere of the sun. Its temperature still remains a mystery, as it is approximately twice as hot as the sun’s surface.
The remote Arctic archipelago has had some of its hotels booked out since year 2008 as Svalbard is renowned for being incredibly scenic on this particular day. So, some of the observers are having to stay in tents, running the risk of a surprise rendezvous with polar bears which are known to roam around around.
A Czech tourist, Jakub Moravec, who came to the place in anticipation of the eclipse, suffered minor injuries after a polar bear attacked the tent he was sleeping in, Norwegian authorities said on Thursday, according to AP.
This Friday is also remarkable on account of the fact that it is the date of a spring equinox, when night and day are of equal length. The unique coincidence of a total solar eclipse, a supermoon and a spring equinox is regarded by some Christians as a sign of the beginning of the end of the world.
Upcoming ‘Supermoon’ eclipse will dazzle Britain, but hit Europe’s power grids hard
This spring should reward plenty of star-gazers, especially in Britain, which will experience its deepest solar eclipse in 15 years, as well as a Supermoon, all at the same time – an event that will sink the island into twilight for two whole hours.
The Supermoon eclipse, as the phenomenon is known, is an astronomical alignment where the Moon is sent on a trajectory between the Sun and the Earth, depriving us of light. The event will occur on March 20 at around 8:40GMT.
Scotland will have it best though, with a whopping 98 percent of the sky darkened, compared to about 85 percent for the south of England. For best results the Scottish need to look up starting 9:36 am.
Other areas in Britain will only get around 30 percent.
Similar events took place in 2006, 2008 and 2011, but neither of them can touch the upcoming Supermoon eclipse, except an event that occurred in 1999.
We’ll have to wait three years for the next one in 2018. However, only 2026 will present us with a deep solar eclipse once again. As for the magnitude, it won’t be until 2090 that we get to see anything like the 1999 and upcoming March 20 events.
Whenever particularly striking displays take place, it is because the Moon is close to the Earth. According to Dr Edward Bloomer of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the March eclipse will see the Moon closer to us than it has been in more than 18 years.
“The Earth is orbiting around the Sun and sometimes is slightly closer and sometimes further away, and the Earth is also wobbling around on its axis,” the Telegraph cites him as saying.
“Likewise the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is elliptical and slightly tilted so it’s rare for the Sun, Earth and Moon to actually line up,” he also said. And when the Moon’s orbit is as close as possible to the Earth’s, we have a total eclipse, Bloomer explains.
That’s when the Supermoon appears, and that is what will take place in Britain in a few days, as our satellite appears to us as an enormous black, glowing orb, shortly before March 20.
The only thing the Brits have to worry about is weather. It can potentially ruin their viewing experience, with the possibility of clouds and rain.
But if skies are clear, another treat for everyone will be the moon itself. With such proximity and lighting conditions, a pair of binoculars will give the viewer surface details that could never be seen with the naked eye.
However, it’s not just the fun factor of such events that is attracting attention. The Brits are afraid it might cause power grid failures as well. The National Grid says around 50 percent of power will be lost throughout the morning hours later in March.
But Britain will remain relatively unscathed, compared to its European neighbors, where up to 10 percent of energy is generated sustainably, meaning they depend more on the sun. According to the UK’s energy body, only 1.5 percent of power there is generated by solar panels. And since people will be going out in droves to watch the spectacle, energy consumption should drop almost at the same time the shortages will strike, it says.
The European Network Transmission System Operators for Electricity says, according to the Independent, “with the increase of installed photovoltaic energy generation, the risk of an incident could be serious without appropriate countermeasures.”
“Within 30 minutes the solar power production would decrease from 17.5 gigawatts to 6.2GW and then increase again up to 24.6GW. This means that within 30 minutes the system will have to adapt to a load change of -10GW to +15GW,” said Patrick Graichen, executive director of the Berlin-based think-tank on renewable energy Agora Energiewende, as cited by the Financial Times.
While the world is only hearing about the Supermoon eclipse now, energy companies have been preparing for the event for months in advance, some in Europe setting up contingency measures for extracting energy from other power stations.
Experts predict that precautionary methods will only increase with time, as more solar energy becomes increasingly commonplace.