Belfast Telegraph

Solar eclipse 2015: Northern Ireland enjoys 'twilight zone' spectacle

People all over Northern Ireland turned out to catch a glimpse of a solar eclipse on Friday morning, despite the cloudy conditions.

The eclipse was at its fullest in Belfast at around 9:31am and ended at 10:39am.

Hundreds of workers gathered at Belfast City Hall with many heeding the warnings to wear viewing glasses.

People also flocked to a special eclipse event outside the Whitla Hall at Queen's University, where members of the Irish Astronomical Association laid on special solar telescopes for safe viewing.

And in the prehistoric Giant's Ring site in south Belfast, pagan revellers celebrated with drums as the glowing crescent sun drifted in and out of the clouds.

In Fermanagh, the clouds parted momentarily at the maximum point, allowing watchers to catch a glimpse of the unforgettable conjunction.

Watchers travelling from Belfast to Iceland on the easyJet flight had the best view of all, watching a total eclipse from the comfort of their airline seats.

Safe viewings were also staged at Scrabo, Larne and Portballintrae.

Readers have sent in their photographs of the spectacle which can be viewed in the gallery above.

Some lucky sky-watchers got to experience the full extent of the event as the moon crossed in front of the sun, covering up to 97% of its face.

One of the best vantage points was in the UK was in South Gloucestershire, where amateur astronomer Ralph Wilkins described the "eerie" feeling as a chilly gloom descended and shadows sharpened.

Elsewhere there were reports of birds "going crazy" and flocking to trees, confused by the fading light.

For much of the UK, the eclipse revealed itself as an abnormal level of darkness at 9.30am in the morning while the sun remained hidden behind a blanket of cloud.

But there were pockets of clear skies over Wales, parts of the West Country and the Midlands, and eastern Scotland around Edinburgh.

Around the UK, the proportion of the sun covered by the moon increased towards the north, ranging from 84% in London to 89% in Manchester, 93% in Edinburgh and 97% in Lerwick in the Shetland Isles.

Times also varied. In overcast London, the eclipse began at 8.24am, and reached its maximum extent at 9.31am. For observers in Edinburgh, it started at 8.30am and peaked at 9.35 am.

The last solar eclipse of such significance occurred on August 11 1999, and was "total" - with 100% of the Sun covered - when seen from Cornwall.

Another "deep" partial eclipse visible in the UK will not occur until August 12, 2026, and the next total eclipse not until September 2090.

Ralph Wilkins, from the London-based Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, who joined a group of sky-watchers outside a school in Hambrook, South Gloucestershire, to witness the eclipse, said: "The sky started clearing just after first contact and we were able to watch the moon glide in front of the sun.

"It was a unique experience - eerie is the right word for it. The shadows started to sharpen and everything began to develop this yellowish hue.

"Whenever there's a solar eclipse in the UK you tend to get cloud, so to be treated to clear skies was really wonderful. It really was beautiful. We were all thrilled."

In sunny Edinburgh, around 200 people gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to watch the eclipse, while in Bristol sky-watchers standing by the Clifton Observatory took turns to look through a giant pinhole camera.

Standing stones added to the atmosphere at Stonehenge and on the Isle of Lewis, with clouds parting at both locations to allow people to witness the event.

A short break in the clouds brought gasps of excitement from hundreds of primary school children gathered at Glasgow Science Centre who managed to catch a glimpse of the eclipse.

But others were left nursing disappointment.

Around 600 people gathered in London's Regent's Park for an event organised jointly by the Royal Astronomical Society and Baker Street Irregular Astronomers, only to be thwarted by the clouds.

Simon Bennett, who co-founded the Baker Street group, said: "We've been unlucky, but that is what astronomy is - you can't guarantee anything."

He added: "The level of interest in the night sky and the daytime sky is quite remarkable."

In Eastbourne, East Sussex, complete cloud cover spoiled the eclipse for dozens of people gathered on the Western Lawns, including a number of children who had been given time off school.

Students Greg Robertson, 19, and Sam Firminger, 20, quaffed champagne in celebration as they observed the eclipse from Clifton Observatory in Bristol.

"It is a few-in-a-lifetime type of thing," said Mr Robertson, a history student at the University of Bristol.

Further reading

Solar eclipse image 'from International Space Station' is fake

Solar eclipse is warning message from God, say Christian pastors 

Solar eclipses occur when the Earth, moon and sun are precisely aligned so that the moon's shadow touches the Earth's surface.

During the eclipse, the moon's shadow raced across the Earth at around 2,000mph.

The eclipse produced a 100-mile-wide "totality" shadow path that crossed the North Atlantic and covered only two land masses, the Faroe Islands between Scotland and Iceland, and the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

Only observers along this path were able to witness the glory of a total eclipse, when the sun is completely covered, revealing its shimmering corona atmosphere as day is turned into night.

Several British tour operators organised trips designed to give people the full eclipse experience.

Those visiting the Faroe Islands were rewarded by clear skies and a magnificent spectacle that included orange flares erupting from the edge of the sun.

Earlier, experts had issued repeated warnings urging people not to look directly at the sun because of the danger of permanent damage to eyesight.

Robin Scagell, vice-president of the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), who was travelling on the P&O cruise ship Oriana to witness the total eclipse, said: "A partial eclipse is more risky by far than a total eclipse because people don't realise that even looking at a thin sliver of sun is dangerous ... It's absolutely true that there is a serious risk to people's eyesight."

Public Health England said that after the 1999 eclipse around 70 people reported loss of vision, half of them reporting issues within 48 hours due to looking at the sun.

Despite the cloud, the eclipse was expected to have a significant impact on the National Grid with a predicted loss of 850 megawatts of solar power from the electricity supply network.

But experts estimated the effect to be more than offset by the large numbers of people leaving their homes to witness the event.

Jeremy Caplin, forecasting manager at National Grid, said: "This loss of solar is entirely manageable and will be largely offset by demand suppression."

The effect on solar power was likely to be greater in other parts of Europe which are more dependent on the sun for electricity generation.

Solar panels feed large amounts of electricity into the power grids of Germany, Italy and France. In the summer, up to 40% of Germany's energy comes from its solar farms.

The last European eclipse occurred before the proliferation of solar power, so experts were in the dark over what would actually happen.

Scientists hoped the 2015 eclipse would help them test their models of how solar farms are likely to behave when they lose energy from the sun.

Professor Alessandro Abate, from Oxford University's department of computer science, said: "This eclipse is a rare opportunity to challenge in a worst-case scenario the mathematical models we are developing to predict the behaviour of large populations of solar panels."

Meanwhile researchers at the University of Reading will be studying reports from an army of "citizen scientists" recruited to help them study eclipse weather - changes in the atmosphere caused by the sun's rays being temporarily blocked out by the moon - for t he National Eclipse Weather Experiment (NEWEx) .

There are anecdotal reports of an "eclipse wind" - a breeze that appears as a solar eclipse reaches its peak - and breaks in the cloud appearing as the atmosphere cools.

Professor Giles Harrison, head of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, who is leading the experiment, said: "W e are effectively turning the skies of Britain into a giant weather lab, giving us a rare chance to see what happens when you 'turn down the sun'.

"This will give us a precious insight into how the sun influences the clouds and wind, as well as more obvious effects, such as temperature. By improving our understanding of how the weather works, we're better able to predict it, meaning scientists can further improve weather forecasts."

The amateur observations will be combined with other data to provide the most detailed picture of the weather effects of an eclipse yet assembled.

Total solar eclipses can be seen somewhere on Earth every 18 months on average, but are considered rare events that recur at any given location just once every 360 to 410 years.

A solar eclipse takes place when the Earth, moon and sun are aligned and the moon's shadow touches the Earth's surface.

Wales, where skies were clear and blue, proved to be one of the best places in the country from which to observe the eclipse.

More than 1,000 people gathered on the steps of the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, where staff from the museum and Cardiff University handed out eclipse safety glasses.

Other events took place in Swansea, Aberystwyth and the Brecon Beacons.

Also putting Wales on the map, Welsh-born singing star Bonnie Tyler started trending worldwide on Twitter with her 1983 power ballad Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

Many users of the social media site also posted with the hashtag #turnaroundbrighteyes, a reference to part of the song's lyrics.

Speaking from the Oriana sailing a few miles off the Faroe Islands, Mr Scagell said rain and cloud unexpectedly gave way to virtually clear skies just in time for the total eclipse.

He said: "We were very lucky indeed. There was rain and cloud for some of the morning coming and going, and just a few minutes before totality a lot of the cloud cleared away and we saw the total phase.

"Everyone was delighted - we had a beautiful view. The entire ship was treated to a fantastic sight.

"We saw the corona, the diamond ring caused by the last bit of the sun at the edge of the eclipse, and prominences - eruptions of hydrogen from the surface of the sun."

The eclipse also revealed the famous "Baily's beads" - dazzling pearls at the edge of the darkened disc caused by sunlight filtering through the moon's mountains, craters and valleys.

"It was a wonderful experience and as an added bonus we're hoping to see the Northern Lights as well," said Mr Scagell.

Around 1,800 passengers were on board the ship for what was originally a Northern Lights cruise.

Brian Stokes, chairman of the Swansea Astronomical Society, joined eclipse watchers on a bright sunny morning at the city's National Waterfront Museum.

He said: "It w as open to everyone and people were being handed solar eclipse glasses. We were there with our telescopes.

"I saw about 80% of the sun covered, with a clear crescent at the bottom. Looking through a telescope, it was magnificent.

"The Swansea promenade was packed with people; they were lined all the way along. I thought that was wonderful but trusted that they were using the right equipment."

He said he had spoken to about 1,000 children and adults about the dangers of looking directly at the sun.

"I've been in two minds about the eclipse," said Mr Stokes. "On the one hand I was excited and couldn't wait, but another part of me wanted it to be cloudy. Then I'd I be assured that all the primary school children were safe."

Background

A solar eclipse takes place when the moon passes between the sun and the earth. The eclipse was almost 95% in Londonderry with the rest of Northern Ireland enjoying around 93%. The only places in the north Atlantic to see a total eclipse were the Faroe Islands and the Svalbard Archipelago.

Missed the solar eclipse? Don't worry: the 2017 one will be even more impressive 

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