For the first time since November 3, 2013, the Moon will completely cover the disk of the Sun on March 20, resulting in a total solar eclipse.
The dark umbral shadow cone of the Moon will trace a curved path primarily over the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, beginning off the southern tip in Greenland and then winding its way counterclockwise to the northeast passing between Iceland and the United Kingdom.
The shadow will then pass over the Danish-owned Faroe Islands, the sparsely inhabited Norwegian island group of Svalbard, and then hook counterclockwise toward the northwest where it leaves the Earth’s surface just short of the North Pole.
The point of greatest eclipse occurs north of the Faroes, in the Norwegian Sea. By the standards of most eclipses, the Moon’s shadow projected onto the Earth’s surface for this event will resemble a huge ellipse of darkness measuring about 287 miles long by 93 miles wide. These unusual dimensions can be attributed in part to the fact that about 13½ hours earlier, the Moon will arrive at that point in its orbit closest to Earth (called perigee), 222,192 miles away. And because the shadow is passing over the Arctic, it is striking the Earth at a very oblique angle, resulting in its elliptical shape.
Check out this very interesting animation, depicting the elongated shadow’s path by solar eclipse enthusiast, Michael Zeller:
A shipboard observer who might be blessed with clear skies at the point of greatest eclipse would see the Sun completely obscured for 2 minutes, 46.9 seconds. The town of Barentsburg, on Spitsbergen (one of the principal islands of Svalbard) will witness 2 minutes 30 seconds of total eclipse.
Unfortunately, the typical weather pattern for this part of the globe as the winter transitions to spring is not very favorable. The chances for a sky with clear to scattered clouds averages only 20.4 percent for the Faroe Islands and a little better; 34.6 percent for Spitsbergen. But sometimes a place with poor weather prospects can get lucky. As the late American science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, once noted: “Climate is what you expect, but weather is what you get!”
I myself plan to fly above any clouds on a specially-chartered jet that will attempt to rendezvous with the Moon’s shadow near the Faroes. I will be the guest of the German companies, AirEvents and Eclipse-Reisen.
One final note: I mentioned that the Moon’s shadow will leave the Earth just shy of reaching the North Pole. From the North Pole, the Sun is below the horizon for six months, from the occurrence of the autumnal equinox on Sept. 22 to the moment of the vernal equinox on March 20th.
But the equinox occurs more than 12 hours after the eclipse ends. So the Sun will be below the horizon and the eclipse will not be seen from the Pole, right?
In fact, if you were at the Pole, the entire Sun will be above the horizon and the total eclipse would indeed be visible. How is this possible? We can thank our atmosphere for acting as a lens and bending or refracting the image of the Sun above the horizon when, in actuality, it is really still below it!
So maybe even Mr. and Mrs. Claus will see it, weather permitting.
Eclipse Timeline (All Times Eastern Daylight):
3:41 a.m. – Partial eclipse begins
5:09 a.m. – Total eclipse begins
5:45 a.m. – Greatest eclipse
6:21 a.m. – Total eclipse ends
7:50 a.m. – Partial eclipse ends
Max Duration of Totality: 2m, 46.9s
Video link courtesy of Michael Zeller and www.greatamericaneclipse.com