diamond geezer

 Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Last chance to see

I don't know whether you've noticed, because it's not exactly high profile in the media, but we're less than three days away from the last solar* eclipse* that you* will ever see in* this country*.

*That's the last eclipse of the sun you will ever see. Total lunar eclipses are rather more common. There was one a fortnight ago, for example, and the next total lunar eclipse visible from the UK is on November 9th this year. Common stuff.
*I'm not talking about partial eclipses here either. They're relatively common too. The next partial solar eclipse visible from the UK will be on the morning of October 3rd 2005, and then another less than six months later on March 29th 2006.
*I'm assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that you'll have died before the next total solar eclipse crosses the UK on September 23rd 2090. If you're under 13 years old and planning to live to the age of 100 with good eyesight then perhaps you'll see that one. But, realistically, for most of you, this Saturday is your last chance.
*That's mainland Britain. Sail off the northwest coast of Scotland to the limit of UK territorial waters on March 20th 2015 and you'll see a fine total eclipse of the sun. Stay on dry land, however, and there's 75 more years more to wait.
*I'm assuming you live in the UK of course. If you're in Antarctica (unlikely, I know) there's a total eclipse later this year on November 23rd. Parts of Africa, Turkey and Russia get a total eclipse on March 29th 2006, and one crosses the USA on August 21st 2017. In the UK though, after this week, you've missed out. For good.

An annular eclipse of the sun is visible from the north-west of Scotland at sunrise on Saturday morning, 31st May 2003. Inverness, Cape Wrath, the Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetlands should all get a good view. The eclipse is also visible from Iceland, parts of Greenland and across the surrounding Arctic Ocean. Reykjavik's probably the very best place to see it from, but it's probably a bit late to book a flight there now. It's very rare to have a solar eclipse in the middle of the night (think about it) but, because this is the Arctic during the summer, perfectly possible. The sun's disc won't be completely obscured because this is only an annular eclipse, and instead there'll be a very narrow ring of sunlight left around the edge. This happens because the Moon is slightly too far away in its orbit to cover the Sun completely. The annular eclipse will be very impressive of course, but it won't be the stunning spectacle of a total eclipse.

This solar eclipse is partial across most of northern Europe and northern Asia, including the UK. Over here you'll need to be up at sunrise to see it, which at this time of the year means just before 5am (Inverness 4:30am, London 4:51am). Obviously you won't be able to see the eclipse before sunrise. Look to the east (very carefully, because you could burn your retina out) and you should see the Moon obscuring most of the sun. (Or, if you're unlucky, you'll see clouds obscuring everything, which is what completely ruined our last total eclipse in Cornwall on August 11th 1999). Make sure you have a good view of the horizon, because the sun will (of course) be very low in the sky. This eclipse is only 69% complete in London, but 92% in York and 93% in Edinburgh. Full information on times and percentages here.

In London the partial eclipse is finished by 5:30am, and even across northern Scotland everything is all over by 5:45am. Just a few hours later this Saturday morning most of the country will then wake up, having missed everything. That's having missed the last solar* eclipse* that they* could ever have seen in* this country*. Don't be one of them. Go on, wake up early and go out and have a look. Or stay up really late on Friday night and watch it all before you go to bed. It'll be worth checking the weather forecast first, of course, just in case it's wall-to-wall cloud. But, see you out there?

Eclipse weblinks - May 31st 2003
All about the annular eclipse, including maps, and how much you'll see in different parts of the UK and Iceland
Very detailed information on the May 31st annular eclipse from NASA
Weather prospects for May 31st
Durness - the most northwesterly village in mainland Britain

Eclipse weblinks - general
UK eclipses, solar and lunar, in the near future (i)
UK eclipses, solar and lunar, in the near future (ii)
UK solar eclipses from 1900 to 2200
All the observed UK total and annular solar eclipses of the first and second millennia
Summary of the total and annular eclipses of the Sun occurring globally between 1998 and 2020
The last total eclipse of the Sun, December 4th 2002
NASA's Eclipse home page


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