Schreiber Science: Solar Eclipse

Adi Levin and Caroline Katz, Staff Writer

On Mar. 20, at about 8:30 GMT, there was a total solar eclipse visible in parts of Europe and a partial eclipse visible in Asia and Africa.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, thus obstructing the Sun from view for a short period of time.

This allows people to see the Sun’s atmosphere, otherwise known as the corona.  In this particular case, the eclipse lasted for about two and a half minutes.

People have been observing such solar eclipses since about 2000 BCE, if not earlier.

But, what makes this solar eclipse especially rare, is the fact that it did not only occur during the vernal, or spring,  equinox, but it also happened during a supermoon, a phase in which the moon is closest to the Earth in its orbit.

Had it not been for cloudy weather, observers on the Faroe Islands of Denmark and the Svalbard Islands of Norway would have had a clear view of the total eclipse. These were the only two places on earth where the eclipse would have had been visible from land. The Faroe Islands are between Ireland and Scotland and the Svalbard archipelago lies north of  the Arctic Circle and.

Unfortunately, the heavy cloud coverage compromised the visibility of the celestial event throughout much of Northern Europe.

The European Space Agency held events for people to watch the phenomenon together, in which Europeans gathered in large crowds and used special glasses or homemade pinhole projectors to see the eclipse firsthand.  In larger cities, viewing areas were set up for people to watch the eclipse happen before their very eyes.

However, most Europeans were disappointed with the results of the eclipse.  Many remembered the clarity of the solar eclipse of 1999, and various online surveys evidenced their dissatisfaction with the most recent eclipse.

Although many observers were unable to view the eclipse, the Proba-2 captured images and videos of it that quickly spread through the Internet.

Prior to the eclipse, officials in Berlin and other European cities were concerned that the eclipse might cause a power failure, as about 10.5% of Europe’s energy is generated using solar power.

It was anticipated that under sunny conditions, there would be a 35,000 MW decrease of energy in Europe’s electrical system in merely two hours.

Fortunately, there was only a slight dip in power, since the eclipse happened on a partly sunny morning.  Hopefully, viewers will be more satisfied with the next major visible eclipse.

Scientists have predicted the next occurrence of a partial solar eclipse to be visible from Borneo, Sumatra, and Sulawesi, in addition to parts of the Pacific Ocean in March 2016.

This year’s eclipse was especially notable because the next total eclipse that falls on the spring equinox will not take place until 2026.