Provided the clouds clear in time, it will be one of our best chances of seeing a solar eclipse in years.
This morning, just after 10am, the moon will move across the path of the sun, making it look like someone is taking a bite out of it wherever you are in Britain.
Forecasters say they can’t be sure we’ll get a perfect picture. But fingers crossed, there’s a good chance early cloud cover in the UK will clear in time, leaving the eclipse clearly visible.
Even if your view is obscured by the clouds, you can still watch it – the Royal Observatory in Greenwich is streaming the eclipse live on Facebook and YouTube.
Here JOHN NAISH looks at the chaos, madness and hysterical eclipses that have caused throughout history; and reveals everything you need to know about one of the most enchanting sights in the natural world.
On Thursday morning, just after 10am, the moon will move across the sun’s path, making it look like someone is taking a bite out of it wherever you are in Britain
When to watch?
According to the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, the solar eclipse will begin at 10:08 this morning.
The maximum eclipse will occur just over an hour later at 11:13 a.m., when the moon will block about a third of the sun (depending on where you are in the country), giving it a crescent shape. The partial eclipse ends at 12:22 p.m.
Best view in the UK?
The view should be similar across the UK, but according to the BBC’s Sky At Night magazine, those watching in Shetland are likely to see the most dramatic effect as more of the sun – 39 per cent – will be covered by the moon.
In Inverness it will be 35 percent; in Edinburgh 31 percent. Further south the ‘eclipse’ will be less pronounced, with Newcastle at 28 percent and Penzance at 22 percent
Best in the world?
Most of Europe will also see a partial eclipse, as will Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic, much of North America and Asia.
But in some places the eclipse will be eclipsed to the maximum. These are the ones that lie under the central track – which runs across Canada, goes north of the Great Lakes, crosses into the Arctic Ocean, and then goes through the North Pole to northeastern Siberia.
In these places, nine-tenths of the sun will be covered for just under four minutes.
What kind of solar eclipse?
Even directly below the eclipse, the sun will not be completely hidden from view: a bright solar ring around the moon will still be visible.
Such an event is called an annular eclipse – the word annular comes from the Latin annulus, meaning ring.
Annular eclipses occur when the moon is near the farthest part of its orbit around Earth. This makes it appear smaller in the sky, which is why it doesn’t completely cover the perimeter of the sun.
Because of this, it instead leaves behind that bright ring around the moon, instead of plunging the world into complete darkness. The phenomenon is also known as the ‘ring of fire’.
Annular eclipses occur when the moon is near the farthest part of its orbit around Earth. This makes it appear smaller in the sky, which is why it doesn’t completely cover the perimeter of the sun
How rare is it?
Solar eclipses happen every one or two years, when the sun and moon are exactly aligned with Earth. Often, however, the paths of the eclipses don’t cross Europe, so we don’t see a thing.
Safe to watch?
While much of the sun’s disk will be obscured from those watching the event in the UK, experts warn that you could still sustain serious and permanent eye injuries if you look directly at the partially eclipsed sun without proper protection, and if you point regular cameras, telescopes or binoculars at it.
dr. Emily Drabek-Maunder, an astronomer and astrophysicist at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, says: ‘Never look directly at the sun or use standard sunglasses. It can seriously damage your eyes.’
She suggests making a simple pinhole projector instead, or — if you have one — using eclipse goggles or special solar filters that can be mounted on telescopes.
You can make your own pinhole projector by poking a small hole in a piece of cardboard. Hold the card up to the sun so that the light shines through the hole and onto a piece of paper behind the card.
On this you can safely see the shape of the sun projected and how the shape changes as the moon passes in front of it.
Any other dangers?
No, but solar eclipses have long been seen as harbingers of doom and death. This is not least because the Bible describes how the sun was completely darkened the moment Jesus died on the cross.
The Gospel of Luke says, “It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over all the land until the ninth hour, because the sun was darkened. And the veil of the temple was rent in two.’
In 6 BC, a battle in Asia Minor between the Medes and the Lydians came to a sudden halt when a total solar eclipse obscured the land. The soldiers became eager to make peace with each other, believing that the solar eclipse must be a heavenly warning for them to cease their fighting.
Less fortunately, in 1878 during a total solar eclipse in America, a man named Ephraim Miller became convinced that this sudden darkness marked the coming of the biblical Apocalypse.
Rather than endure the catastrophic horrors that were sure to follow, he killed his son with an ax and committed suicide.
Much more recently, media for eclipse-related illness in Serbia caused about 97 percent of the country to avoid the rare August 1999 total solar eclipse. Even the national airline stopped flying during the event.
The Serbian Ministry of Labor and Social Policy had previously tried to reassure people about the risk, but this only increased their fears.
It published a list of possible eclipse-related symptoms that had no scientific basis whatsoever. These include palpitations, stomach cramps, increased blood pressure, spikes in blood sugar and frequent urination.
Since the 1830s, scientists have used solar eclipses as a way to study the sun’s corona — the rays that point out of the annular ring like a crown (hence the corona).
Solar eclipses represent an almost miraculous scientific opportunity. Imagine the cosmic odds against an inhabited planet with intelligent life with a moon just the right diameter and distance to appear nearly the same size in the sky as the sun, blocking the glare so neatly that the outer atmospheric edges can safely are being observed .
Here on Earth, scientists have proven that eclipses have a pretty obvious effect — temperatures drop in Britain when the sun is blocked — by as much as 3c in some places.
Winds also normally increase in the sudden cold, says a report in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.
Most intriguing, however, is the evidence that Earth’s gravity changes where the eclipse’s shadow passes over us.
The temperature drop caused by the shadow generates gravitational waves detected by ultra-sensitive barometers. As the eclipse’s trail crosses Earth, these gravitational waves are similar to the wake left by a boat as it travels through water, researchers believe.
The phenomenon has been recorded as continuing for up to 90 minutes below the path of an eclipse.
Am I an umbrophile?
You’ll have to become a serious globetrotter to compete with the most avid umbraphiles (as eclipse chasers are sometimes called).
Three American scientists — Glenn Schneider, Jay Pasachoff and John Beattie — each hold the equal world record for observing more total solar eclipses than any other human in history: 35 each.
In their eagerness to see rare eclipses despite weather and terrain obstacles, the three New Yorkers have made countless last-minute attempts to find cloud-free viewing spots, chartering private planes, boats and off-road vehicles to find the perfect view, oftentimes. on a mountain or other elevated area.
When is the next?
A partial lunar eclipse is visible in Britain on the night of November 18. The next partial solar eclipse visible in Europe will be on October 25, 2022.
But total solar eclipses are rare. The next one won’t arrive in the UK until September 2090.