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Observing a solar eclipse

Partial solar eclipse On 20th March 2015, UK residents witnessed a near-total solar eclipse. From around 8.30 a.m. the Moon appeared to move across the Sun, taking about an hour to cover it almost completely. A total eclipse was visible from the Faroe Islands and Svalbard. Shetland had an eclipse of approximately 97%, while in southern England it was nearer to 85%. By a rare coincidence, two other rare events took place at the same time as the eclipse: a Supermoon and the Spring Equinox. A Supermoon, or perigee moon, is when the Full or New Moon comes closest to the Earth, making it look bigger than normal. The Spring Equinox is the time when the day and night are of equal duration.

How eclipses happen

Diagram of partial and total eclipsesA solar eclipse happens whenever the New Moon passes in front of the Sun, and the Moon’s shadow falls on our planet. Although the Sun is around 400 times larger than the Moon, we are able to watch total solar eclipses because of the fact that the Sun is, coincidentally, 400 times farther away.

Because the Moon's shadow (umbra) traces only a narrow path on Earth's surface, total eclipses are rare at any particular location. It may be 500-600 years before another one is visible from the same point.

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