Solar eclipse comes after 16 years

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The most spectacular eclipse of the Sun for 15 years will plunge Britain into twilight for two hours next month.

In a rare astronomical alignment the Moon will pass directly between the Sun and the Earth, blocking out most of the light from around 8.40am on March 20.

Northern Scotland will have the best view of the partial eclipse, where more than 98 per cent of the Sun will be covered. For London and the South East it will be around 85 per cent.

Dr Edward Bloomer, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said the eclipse would be spectacular because the Moon was closer to the Earth than it had been for 18 and a half years.

“The Earth is orbiting around the Sun and sometimes is slightly closer and sometimes further away, and the Earth is also wobbling around on its axis,” he said.

“Likewise the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is elliptical and slightly tilted so it’s rare for the Sun, Earth and Moon to actually line up.

“When they do come into perfect alignment it is called the syzygy effect and when the Moon is closest to Earth you have a total eclipse.

“This March there is an exact alignment so nearly all of the light will be blocked out.”

The place in Britain that will see the best eclipse is the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, close to Aird Uig. There 98 per cent of the sun will be obscured at mid-eclipse at around 9.36am

Viewers on Skye and Orkney could see around 97 per cent of the Sun covered. But anyone wishing to see a total solar eclipse will have to visit the Faroes or Northern Scandinavia, where the Sun will be totally covered for around two minutes.

In London the maximum eclipse, when the moon is nearest the middle of the sun, will be at 9.31am. and the Moon will have passed in front of the Sun by 10.41am.

Dr Steve Bell, of the HM Nautical Almanac Office, said: “The path of totality lies well to the north-west of the UK, making landfall over the Faroe Islands and Svalbard as totality moves towards the North Pole.

“The UK will see this eclipse as a deep partial eclipse. Skies will darken for any location where the maximum obscuration exceeds 95 per cent which includes north-western Scotland, the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetland Islands.”

There are fears that power supplies could be affected by the eclipse, which will be the most complete since 1999.

The next total eclipse anywhere near the UK will be in 2081 in central Europe, and finally in Britain in 2090.

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