Equinox eclipse in the Arctic

¡SkyCaramba! Weekly astronomy blog for the week ending March 14, 2015

Animation showing the eclipse of March 20, 2015An hour-long total solar eclipse on the same day as this month’s equinox begins south of Greenland’s tip and curves all the way to the North Pole. Places all over Europe will get to see the eclipse’s partial phases. So will northern Africa, most of Greenland, and western Asia.

The hour length refers to how long totality would last if you could travel the path of totality and keep the sun and moon in perfect alignment. The longest totality will last anywhere is 2 minutes, 47 seconds. That’s in a place east of Iceland.

Some passenger ship companies run specially scheduled eclipse cruises for events like this. Eclipse tours are especially popular in far northern waters. It’s probably a little late to book your trip for this one though.

On the other hand, you don’t have to be at sea to see this total eclipse. This one happens to cross Svalbard Island north of Norway. Most of the island’s inhabitants are scientists and their families. Some of the scientists study atmospheric and astronomical phenomena that are easier to observe at very high latitudes including aurorae. Others are there to observe polar bears, document Arctic plant life, and study the region’s geology. Svalbard Island is easily reached by airplane, but be sure you have a place to stay when you get there.

By coincidence, this eclipse occurs on the same day as the northward equinox. In the northern hemisphere, people associate it with spring. And in the southern hemisphere, it’s associated with autumn. Also by coincidence, the totality line ends right at the North Pole.

Astronomers catalog eclipses in saros series. Every 18 years, nearly identical circumstances recur and an eclipse replays with a few variations. The saros that includes the March 20, 2015 eclipse began in 933 with partial phases only near the South Pole. Every subsequent eclipse in the series was a little farther north and included total phases starting in 1059. There will be one more total eclipse in this saros series in 2033. After that, it will produce nine more far northerly partial eclipses through 2195.