EAn Eclipse of the Sun occurs when the moon passes between the earth and the sun.  Basically, the shadow of the moon moves on a path over the earth’s surface.  Depending on where you are, you might see a chunk bitten out of the sun by the moon, because you are only in the partial shadow (penumbra), or the disc of the moon covering the disc of the sun – the total eclipse, because you are in the full shadow.

I had 1999 on my mind for all the years I was growing up.  The first solar eclipse I witnessed, a partial one, I saw in the school playground, and it must have been around 1960 to 62.  At that stage we learnt that the next total eclipse to be seen in Britain would be in the unimaginably remote year of 1999 – and it was only going to be in the south-westernmost tip, in Cornwall.  Visions of England tipping into the sea as the entire population fled to Cornwall filled my brain for some time.

By 1996 I was starting to plan, and thinking I needed to be in Scotland until the weekend before it.  This could be tricky.  By 1998 I knew I was going to be in London.  When the time came, I watched the partial eclipse with my friends and a lot of other people, in Kensington Gardens, opposite the Royal Albert Hall.  It was weird the way everything went quiet, the birds and squirrels stopped moving about, even the traffic noise seemed to dim as the sunlight faded.

As it happened, the weather in Cornwall was total cloud cover.  You needed to be at sea or in the Channel Islands to catch a brief glimpse of totality!  But I had missed that longed-for total eclipse.

Some time in 2010 or 2011, I was looking through some stuff and noticed a trip to Longyearbyen (78N 15E) in the islands of Svalbard, (Spitzbergen) up in the Arctic Circle.  It was a short trip for an astonishing (to me) amount of money, to witness a total eclipse of the sun, in the Arctic Circle, at the spring equinox, with a chance of seeing polar bears,  arctic foxes, and the Northern Lights as well.  I booked it about three weeks later.  I did, after all, have four years to save up for it!

It turned out that this was a 1 in 400,000 year event – an eclipse on the equinox which was visible at the north pole and with a moon at perigee which meant its shadow exactly covered the sun’s disc.  It was very cold – -21 C or -6 F.  And the temperature dropped during the two minutes of eclipse.  Cameras froze.  Fingers nearly froze…

But this is what I saw!

But the most amazing thing about the total eclipse is the connection it gives you with the universe.  You really feel you are on a rock spinning through space with the sun and the moon going round you.  It’s mind-blowing. It’s almost spiritual. But I suspect that’s best kept secret.

Pictures by me except for header by Peter Almond.

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Eclipse of the Sun, Svalbard 20.3.15

20 thoughts on “Eclipse of the Sun, Svalbard 20.3.15

  • 6 April, 2015 at 7:21 am
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    What did you view it through? We had the paper system, which detracts from the magic somewhat,

    • 6 April, 2015 at 10:08 am
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      When it’s total you can view it directly. But you have to be very careful in the lead up and out (diamond ring time). We had the special glasses. Were you projecting it onto a piece of paper? It’s fiddly, but it can work… wait for my letter T!
      But you can see how low the sun is over the hills, even at 11 am local. It made projection very difficult!

      • 6 April, 2015 at 8:57 pm
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        I was told not to look directly at it at all unless you had proper glasses, so I just got a shadowy dot on a piece of paper.

        • 12 April, 2015 at 3:53 pm
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          You need to play about a bit to get it in focus. Sorry you didn’t get a good view.

    • 6 April, 2015 at 10:09 am
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      It really was, Anabel!

    • 6 April, 2015 at 7:54 pm
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      Certainly makes you think the Uk is warm when you get back!

    • 6 April, 2015 at 7:54 pm
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      OH, I don’t mind getting out of bed for that sort of thing 🙂

  • 6 April, 2015 at 6:20 pm
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    You are on my list to check if you are being part of the A to Z Challenge.

    THANK YOU for being up to the letter “E”…
    Jeremy [Retro]
    AtoZ Challenge Co-Host [2015]

    There’s no earthly way of knowing.
    Which direction we are going!

    HOLLYWOOD NUTS!
    Come Visit: You know you want to know if me or Hollywood… is Nuts?

    • 6 April, 2015 at 7:55 pm
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      Thanks, Jeremy. All scheduled to W except for Fridays at the moment (that’s my Flash Fiction day)

  • 7 April, 2015 at 10:41 pm
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    It’s been decades since I last saw a total eclipse. What a grand adventure you had! Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • 8 April, 2015 at 3:04 pm
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      Thanks, Debbie!

  • 13 April, 2015 at 11:10 pm
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    That is just such an incredible thing to have witnessed!
    By the way, the last time we had a full (? or nearly) eclipse here, a few years ago, I found a whole bunch of old film–the unexposed parts from the beginning of the developed rolls. I taped a bunch together and used them to create a very dark filter for the camera–it actually worked, if a bit less than perfectly. I think we also had light fog (when do we not?) which helped make it easier to do safely.

    • 14 April, 2015 at 5:08 pm
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      You’ll need to go a little north for the eclipse of August 2017, but if you pick one of your mountain hikes I bet you’ll get a great view 🙂

  • 17 May, 2015 at 2:04 pm
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    Hi Jemima – I remember the first one too .. we were out on the playing fields … the one in 1999 I was with some friends in Milton Keynes .. and yes that brief experience. Then this year – it lasted not at all long and wasn’t full by any manner of means …

    But I envy you your trip .. it must have been quite magical and I can believe quite spiritual … which will be there to draw your attention to earth and life around us. Incredible opportunity – that you grabbed with both hands – how very sensible … fantastic trip. Love seeing the photos …

    Cheers Hilary

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