On March 20th 2015 a solar eclipse will be visible from the UK for a few minutes. Although it won’t be a complete eclipse, between 82% and 97% of the sun will be covered so it’s still significant and well worth watching! And the day before that, the 19th March, there will be a supermoon event. This is when the moon passes closest to the Earth, and is particularly large and bright in the night sky. This happens every 13 months and 18 days but it’s unusual to see it at the same time as a solar eclipse.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Earth, Moon and Sun are all in a line and the Moon comes between the Sun and Earth. This means that the Sun’s light is blocked, as you can see here:
A full solar eclipse (when the Moon’s shadow completely covers the Sun) is only visible from a particular part of the Earth. On this occasion that’s the Faroe Islands north of the UK, and Iceland’s Svalbard islands. But a partial eclipse (when the Moon’s shadow only covers part of the Sun) will be visible in Europe, north-western Africa and north-eastern Asia, with particularly good views here in the UK. This digram shows what it will look like from different parts of the country:
Although a solar eclipse is a wonderful thing to see you must never look directly at the Sun, even when it’s covered with the Moon’s shadow. Even sunglasses won’t protect your eyes from damage. The easiest way to safely watch a solar eclipse is by making a pinhole viewer. Take two pieces of stiff paper or card and, carefully using a pin, poke a hole in the centre of one of them. Stand with your back to the Sun and hold the paper with the hole in between the Sun and the whole sheet of paper, like this:
You will be able to see the Moon’s shadow as it passes across the face of the Sun, projected onto your piece of card. Of course, if it’s cloudy you may not be able to see it properly or even at all, but you will almost certainly be able to watch it online. This will be the last total solar eclipse visible from Europe until August 2026, so let’s hope the weather is good!