The Polar Solar Eclipse of 20 March 2015

Thousands will thrill to totality while millions enjoy a deep partial eclipse


Nature’s greatest sight — a total eclipse of the Sun — visits Europe and the North Atlantic on the 20th of March. This eclipse is special because it occurs on the Spring Equinox and ends at the North Pole just as the Sun returns for its six month stay. Will anyone be at the pole to see this magical sight?

A spectacle across Europe

The total solar eclipse races across the North Atlantic in an hour and ten minutes, just missing Iceland. The only two landfalls for totality are the Faroe Islands and Svalbard, an Arctic island archipelago of Norway. The eclipse ends at sunset at the North Pole.

How deep is the solar eclipse across Europe? This map shows you just how much of an eclipse will be seen. The closer you are to the path of the total solar eclipse, the dimmer sunshine will appear. Use eclipse viewing glasses but if none are handy, follow these instructions from the Royal Astronomical Society.

Map by Michael Zeiler, www.greatamericaneclipse.com

Sunshine on another planet!

If you can’t get to the only two locations to view totality, you can experience an amazing simulation of how sunshine falls upon another planet. This graphic shows you what planet you are on when the eclipse is at maximum.

The eclipse from the Moon

Here is an animation of the eclipse from the perspective of the Moon. While the Earth rotates underneath, the Moon’s shadow flies between the United Kingdom and Iceland and passes close to Norway. The lucky residents of the Faroes and Svalbard will see the sight of a lifetime!

The eclipse from above

This view shows the eclipse as it might appear to the International Space Station, assuming it could hold its position for an hour. Because of the low Sun angle, the Moon’s shadow appears to be an elongated cigar shape. Notice how rapidly the eclipse ends at sunset at the North Pole!

A view from the stratosphere

Several hundred people will witness the eclipse from over a dozen aircraft chartered for the occasion. Flight plans have been developed to chase the eclipse and lengthen the duration of the eclipse. A flight from high altitude also has the advantage of guaranteeing success in viewing the eclipse. You can read about one ambitious expedition coordinating several new Dassault Falcon 7X jets to intercept the eclipse from a height of 49,000 feet!

Totality at the Faroe Islands

An estimated 8,000 eclipse tourists will be joining the 50,000 residents of the Faroe Islands to view the total solar eclipse. A challenge for these eclipse seekers will be the often cloudy weather plus a fairly low sun altitude of 19 degrees.

A citizen-science effort analyzed the incidence of cloudy conditions enlisted many residents to record conditions so that a spatio-temporal analysis could identify patterns and guide strategies for dodging clouds on eclipse day. Also, visibility maps have been published to highlight areas which may be in shadow at eclipse time.

Darkness at Svalbard

Before the total solar eclipse reaches the North Pole, it passes over the high Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and the world’s northernmost city, Longyearbyen. Hundreds of eclipse chasers (including myself) will converge here because the weather prospects are decent here and this location also serves as an alternative to capture precious photographs of the Sun’s corona in case of inclement weather in the Faroe Islands.

Eclipse at the pole

A special circumstance of this eclipse is that it ends at the North Pole on the Spring Equinox. This is the day when the Sun first appears above the horizon at the pole and this rare combination is calculated to not occur again for many thousands of years.

A few people have tried to mount an expedition to the pole on eclipse day, but have been frustrated by the logistical difficulties and immense cost of arriving before the annual sunrise at the Pole.

Eclipse resources

If you can’t make it to the total solar eclipse on 20 March 2015, you’ve got a great opportunity coming on 21 August 2017 when the Moon’s shadow crosses the United States from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. Beautiful and detailed maps and animations of this eclipse are at www.greatamericaneclipse.com.

The authoritative site for eclipse predictions are provided by retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak at eclipsewise.com. You’ll find data on a thousand year span of solar and lunar eclipses here.

The best site for eclipse weather predictions is hosted by meteorologist Jay Anderson at eclipser.ca. Every serious eclipse chaser closely consults Jay’s site when planning an expedition and in the run up to eclipse day.

Wonderful interactive Google eclipse maps are provided by Xavier Jubier at xjubier.free.fr/en/site_pages/SolarEclipsesGoogleMaps.html. You can closely inspect eclipse circumstances by zooming within a Google map display.

A Kickstarter campaign is underway to develop a documentary of what it is like to chase and view a total solar eclipse. Consider helping Nelson Quan and Geoff Sims complete their video at www.kickstarter.com/projects/336361799/chasing-shadows

Eclipse gear

Get ready for the Great American Eclipse of 2017! You can find quality gear for solar eclipses such as eclipse viewing glasses, maps, shirts, hats, books, jewelry, and more at www.greatamericaneclipse.com/store/