UK Eclipse Alert: On Tuesday morning, just as Britain heads back to work after New Year, a solar eclipse will take place over much of northern Europe. The eclipse won't be total, only partial, but up to 80% of the sun will disappear over Scandinavia, and up to two-thirds here. The partial eclipse will be visible across the whole of the UK, weather permitting, but the greatest coverage will be here in the southeast. The eclipse begins before sunrise, which isn't ideal, so you'll need to find somewhere with a good view of the southeastern horizon and wait. First light's just after eight o'clock. Two-thirds of the sun's disc will be covered at the moment of maximum eclipse, shortly afterwards. And it'll all be over by half past nine. Try not to miss this, because there'll only be a handful of better solar eclipses to be seen in the UK during your lifetime. (but never look directly at the Sun, obviously, or you could do horrible things to your eyesight)
Here are the details for London: Sunrise on Tuesday 4th January is at 08:06. It'll be a dimmer sunrise than normal because most of the top half of the Sun will be eclipsed, and the non-eclipsed bit will be below the horizon. If the clouds are clear a single spike of Sun will emerge into the daylight, then a second, eventually combining to form a two-horned curve of light. Tell me that isn't something special. Maximum eclipse occurs at 08:11, five minutes after sunrise. 66.7% of the solar disc will be covered at this point, with a big bite taken out of the top left edge of the Sun. After this, more and more of the Sun will appear as the Moon's shadow moves on. The eclipse ends at 09:31. The Sun will still be less than 10° above the horizon at this point, this being midwinter, so if there are any buildings or trees between you and the horizon you'll probably see none of it.
And the really special, really rare thing? This eclipse is a direct hit on London. The centre line traced by the Moon's shadow passes precisely across the capital, from Old Coulsdon to Hainault (via Shirley, Hither Green, Silvertown and Ilford). It even very nearly passes through the Royal Greenwich Observatory, which is a nice astronomical touch. There'll be no perceptible benefits to being on this magic line, but it is exceptionally rare for any particular point on the Earth to be hit in this way. (For those of you outside the capital, the eclipse is also a direct hit on Littlehampton, Redhill, Thaxted, Haverhill, Elveden, Watton and Holt)
At this point I should introduce you to NASA's clickable eclipse map. It show's the centre line of the eclipse (in green) and the furthest extent of the Moon's shadow (in yellow). Zoom in, and you can follow the path of the eclipse from North Africa to the icy Russian wastes. Even better, you can click anywhere on the map to bring up the precise local circumstances at that point (Blackheath, maximum eclipse 08:11:47.5, elevation 0°, Sun on a bearing of 128.4°). I could play with this all day (but then I'm sad like that).
When will the UK next see a total solar eclipse?3rd September 2081 (Channel Islands only) When will the UK mainland next see a total solar eclipse?23rd September 2090 (Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hants, West Sussex) (Google map) When will London next see a total solar eclipse?14th July2151 (Enfield Lock, Hainault, Romford, Upminster) [the last was on 3 May 1715]