Solar eclipse will provide top treat for stargazers

The moon photographed by Brian and Robin Rice.
The moon photographed by Brian and Robin Rice.

The south west will see a one in 100 year event next week with a partial solar eclipse, the biggest seen in the area since 1927.

On the morning of Friday, March 20 the moon will nearly cover the sun, blocking out 91 per cent of its light.

The Horsehead Nebula in the constellation of Orion. Image by Brian and Robin Rice

The Horsehead Nebula in the constellation of Orion. Image by Brian and Robin Rice

The eclipse also falls on the same day as a full moon and the spring equinox, meaning there could be higher tides than usual.

The partial eclipse will been seen across Northern Africa, Europe and Northern Asia with a total eclipse seen across the north Atlantic from just below the Greenland peninsula into the Arctic Circle.

The course takes it across the Norwegian island of Svalbard and also the Faroe Islands, for a full two minutes and nine seconds of total solar eclipse.

Two Galloway Forest Astronomical Society members, Robin and Brian Rice, have travelled to the faroe Islands to witness the eclipse.

The society say they may take their telescopes to Galloway Gardens in Newton Stewart if conditions are clear on the day - but members of the public can keep updated on the plans on their website.

Antony Berretti, chairman of Galloway Forest Astronomical Society. says it’s a one in one hundred year event and should be spectacular - but he is also warning that people should take care and not look directly at the sun during the eclipse.

Mr Berretti said: “We no longer have the official observatory in Newton Stewart but when we have something to look at we will go out and take the equipment.

“However we’re not going to know until on the day whether we will have clear skies. If on the day we have cloud cover or rain it will be a very dark sky. It will look as if we are going into night-time. By 8.30am people will notice the light dimming and by 9.30am, if it’s a clear sky and we get an uninterrupted view, we will certainly notice the moon going across the sun.

“The obscuration factor is 91 per cent. The north of scotland is the best place where we will only see six to seven per cent of the sun. It’s not quite a full eclipse but the best we’ve had for 100 years.

“In the UK the last occassion we had a good partial eclipse was February 15, 1961, where it was 87.5 per cent obscuration. before that it was 1954.

“To get a really good event you have to go back to June 29, 1927, that was 99.3 per cent obscuration, very nearly a full solar eclipse. So this is a one in 100 year event.”

The next eclipse is 11 years away in August 2026.

Mr Berretti continued: “People are going to wake up on the 20th and if they don’t know it’s an eclipse are going to be surprised as the light disappears. We will certainly see it getting darker and darker. If it’s a clear day it will be a spectacular event.

“People should not look directly at the sun. You can use particularly dark glasses almost like welder’s glasses. or there may be some publications that give away free glasses that people can use.

“A good digital camera should allow you to take a good image. Some digital cameras may automatically have the correct settings for taking photos, but you can also get neutral density filters, but it would have to be a pretty strong filter.

“The eclipse will be happening just as schoolkids are going to school and it’s something they may want to look at. But parents have to make sure the kids understand that they shouldn’t look directly at the sun. It is dangerous and could damage your eyes. If you have doubts speak to an occulist.

“We will wait to see what the weather conditions are like on the day. People can go to our website and we will put information up closer to the day about where we will take our equipment.

“We are also trying to get one of the local bakers to make a solar biscuit just to give out to people when they turn up. We might be in Galloway Gardens and could organise a meeting before the eclipse in one of the local hotels.”

Look online at www.gallowayforest-astro.org.uk