Three Celestial Events to Occur at Same Time on Friday

Astronomer Brendan Owens with a telescope at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, on Thursday ahead of Friday’s solar eclipse. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)
Astronomer Brendan Owens with a telescope at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, on Thursday ahead of Friday’s solar eclipse. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)

Parts of Europe will be treated to three celestial events at once on Friday: a supermoon, a total eclipse of the sun, and the spring equinox, when night and day are of equal duration.

Solar eclipses are rare. The illusion of a supermoon can be witnessed several times a year, when the moon flies closest to the Earth and therefore appears larger than usual. The spring equinox occurs once a year, and marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere.

But the concurrence of all three events is extremely unusual, and has excited skywatchers.

“These are rare events and therefore memorable,” said Radmila Topalovic, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, England, which will aim a dozen specially modified telescopes at the sky on Friday so people can view the two-hour eclipse. “Despite all the planning it’s going to be a humbling experience.”

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely blocks our view of the sun’s disk, turning day into night. Though total solar eclipses occur somewhere on earth every 18 months on average, they recur at any given place just once every 360 to 410 years. The moon is 400 times smaller than the sun but also 400 times closer, so it appears the same size in the sky and virtually covers all of the sun during a solar eclipse.

During a total eclipse, the cone-shaped shadow of the moon becomes narrower as it extends toward Earth. The path of “totality” is typically 10,000 miles long but only about 100 miles wide.

On Friday, people living in parts of the Arctic and the far north of Europe will witness the eclipse in its totality, while most of Europe and parts of northern Africa will see a partial eclipse. In parts of Britain, the moon will blot out 85% of the sun and cast an eerie light during the morning rush hour and school run.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal, Gautam Naik

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