Solar eclipse: Best time and place to see the 'magical' cosmic event in the UK

Parts of the US will be in darkness due to a total solar eclipse, Sangeeta Kandola explains

People in parts of the UK may be able to see a partial solar eclipse on Monday, as the final moments of the total eclipse in North America will be visible.

The cosmic event will plunge much of North America into darkness, turning the day skies into night.

Millions of spectators along a narrow stretch from Mexico to the US to Canada are eagerly waiting to spot the moment, when flares of the Sun’s corona will appear like a diamond ring in the sky.

As the Earth is plunged into darkness, planets and comets may even be visible to the naked eye.

What is a total solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon completely covers the sun, and observers are within the darkest part of its shadow.

Areas covered by partial shade will witness a partial eclipse, and this is what some sky-gazers might see in the UK tonight.

The moon passes in front of the setting sun during a total solar eclipse in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2019. Credit: AP

Total solar eclipses occur every 18 months but the visibility path of seeing the full total eclipse is only around 80 miles, so if you are not located within that track it will not be visible.

The next total eclipse of the sun visible from the UK is in 2090.There is another in 2026 that is visible in northern Spain, tracking up to Iceland.

Where and when is the best place to see the eclipse in the UK?

The total solar eclipse will not be visible from the UK and Ireland, however, a partial solar eclipse – where a small segment of the sun is blocked out by the moon – may be visible close to sunset.

The eclipse will start at 7.53pm and end at 8.23pm (BST).

The path of the total eclipse will end west of Ireland, but after sunset around 20 per cent to 30 per cent of the sun will be obscured by the moon.

Professor Don Pollacco, from the University of Warwick’s Department of Physics, said from Glasgow about 12 per cent of the sun will be obscured at around 8pm (BST).

Under clear conditions, people in Edinburgh could see a 6 per cent obscuration.

Magdalena Nahuelpan, looks at a total solar eclipse using special glasses in Carahue, La Araucania, Chile, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. Credit: AP

Liverpool will only see a maximum of 3.1per cent coverage at 7.57pm when the sun is basically right on the horizon – the window is very small as the start and end times are 7.55pm and 8pm.

Belfast will be treated to more of an eclipse with a maximum of 28.1% coverage at 8.10pm

Stornoway in Scotland will see 33.7% maximum coverage at 8.13pm.

Dr Edward Bloomer, senior astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said the UK is only going to get “a small grazing” of the eclipse in the west and north of the country.

He said: “I’m afraid the south and the east are out of luck this time around."

What's the forecast?

There are fears cloud cover will spoil the view of the eclipse in the US.

Clouds are forecast for much of the eclipse route through the US with some possible patches of clear skies in some spots, according to the latest forecast from the National Weather Service.

Tonight the UK will mostly be covered in cloud, which could impact the visibility of the eclipse.

The sun sets at around 7.45pm meaning the window will be very short to see the solar event.

What will it look like?

The path of totality – meaning where the total solar eclipse will be fully visible – will start shortly after 11am local time in Mazatlan, Mexico.

From Mexico the total eclipse will last four and a half minutes, and while this does not seem long, the maximum eclipse length possible is about seven to eight minutes.

Prof Pollacco, who is travelling to the US to view the total solar eclipse, said: “Total eclipses of the sun are amazing and feel quite magical.

“From the right vantage point, you can see the moon shadow rushing towards you at 1,000 miles an hour as totality approaches.

“When almost obscured, as the sun’s light shines through valleys on the moon’s limb, you see the famous Baily’s Beads (beads of sunlight emerging from the eclipse shadow).

"When the final valley is lit up, you can see the Diamond Ring (which appears as a faint corona around the sun, as a glittering ring).

“At this time, turning off the sunlight has effects high up in the Earth’s atmosphere, which may impact communications, and produce the strange shadow bands on the ground – making the ground swirl around as you look at it.”

”The phenomenon itself will last two hours, with the eclipse starting in North America shortly after 2pm EDT (7pm BST)."

Is it safe to look at the total eclipse?

The usual rules about not looking directly at the sun apply, as looking directly at the star could cause blindness.

Experts say the eclipse can be viewed safely through real solar eclipse glasses – not 3D glasses or anything similar.

The safest, cheapest option is to view the event is by pinhole projection – make a hole in a piece of card, hold it under the sun, and hold a piece of paper behind the card.

Samia Harboe, her son Logan and her friend's son wear eclipse glasses during totality of the annular solar eclipse in Oregon in 2023. Credit: AP

Using this method, people should be able to see the shape of the sun projected on to the paper, taking away the need to look directly at the sun.

Prof Pollacco warned: “With no protection you will at best damage your eyes, or you could blind yourself.

“Going west the obscuration is greater, east less. Either way you will need some eye protection."

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