On Friday, March 20, the moon will completely cover the disk of the sun in this year’s first and only total solar eclipse.
Though many skywatchers would love to gaze up at this rare celestial event, the full eclipse will only be visible from Svalbard, Norway, and the Faroe Islands north of Scotland. Other parts of Europe – as well as North Africa, Greenland, and West Asia – will still be able to get a partial view of the solar eclipse, which is said to be at its greatest point at 9:46 UTC (coordinated universal time).
During the total solar eclipse, which will be the first since November 3, 2013, the Earth, sun and moon will be in almost precise alignment with the shadow of the moon touching the surface of the Earth.
According to Space, the dark umbral shadow cone of the moon will trace a curved path that will predominantly be over the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. The eclipse will begin “Off the southern tip of Greenland and then winding its way counterclockwise to the northeast, passing between Iceland and the United Kingdom.”
This shadow will then pass over the Faroe Islands, then the Norwegian Island of Svalbard after which it will turn counterclockwise towards the northwest and leave the Earth’s surface just short of the North Pole.
This upcoming solar eclipse is predicted to last more than two hours – and it’s unique because it will not only be a supermoon, whereas the moon will be at its closest distance to the Earth, but it will also fall on the first day of spring. This phenomenon is known as the vernal equinox – an event that will not happen again until 2034, then 2053, and 2072.
Friday’s occurrence of three rare and significant events – the solar eclipse, Spring equinox and the supermoon (which will not be visible because it’ll be a new moon) – has some thinking that the celestial episode is a sign from the heavens, and pertains to the end of times.
This belief is partly linked to the “Blood Moon Prophecy“, which holds the theory that a tetrad – a series of four successive lunar eclipses, with six full moons between them – is a sign that the end is near.
The tetrad carries religious significance, particularly because the first two blood moons align with the Jewish holy days of Passover and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacle).
As for the solar eclipse on Friday, if you can’t join the small audience who’ll be able to witness the full spectacular event in person, you can watch it live online at Slooh Community Observatory’s website slooh.com, which will begin broadcasting live views at 4:30 a.m. EDT (8:30 GMT).
Remember, it’s quite dangerous to look directly at the sun. If you happen to be in the eclipse zone, do not look directly at the sun as this can cause major retinal damage that can result in permanent eye issues or even blindness.
Safe approaches to viewing the solar eclipse include using telescopes fitted with solar filters, or build a pinhole camera or solar projector with binoculars.
According to NASA, “No matter which recommended technique you choose, do not stare continuously at the sun. Take breaks and give your eyes a rest. And, remember, don’t use regular sunglasses – they don’t offer your eyes sufficient protection.”
The map below provides a visual of where in the world the solar eclipse will be seen.
[Image: TimeandDate and National Astronomical Observatory of Japan via Getty Images]