Sun watchers flock to Svalbard for total eclipse

All eyes were on the skies early on Friday for a total solar eclipse in Svalbard, a remote Arctic archipelago.

Sun watchers flock to Svalbard for total eclipse
Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix

Die-hard eclipse junkies flew in from around the world to the Faroe Islands and Norway's Arctic Svalbard archipelago to observe the less than three minutes of daytime darkness, a phenomenon that has fascinated mankind since the beginning of time.

Europeans got their first glimpse through cloudy skies in Spain's Canary Islands in the early morning.

"We can see perfectly well the disc of the moon… It is one of the most marvellous astronomical spectacles you can see," Alfred Rosenberg, an astrophysicist at the Canaries Astrophysics Institute told AFP from the island.

View from Svalbard. Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold / NTB Scanpix

 In the Swedish capital Stockholm a crescent-shaped sun shone through overcast skies as temperatures dropped, prompting people in the city's business district to stop and take pictures with their smartphones.

Eclipse enthusiasts were less lucky in Denmark's far-flung Faroe Islands.

"There are drifting clouds, and there is a large blue hole on the way. We've just had a quick sighting of the sun which is now almost half covered," Ole J. Knudsen, an astrophysicist at Denmark's Aarhus University told AFP from the rainy Faroe Islands capital Torshavn.

As with previous eclipses experts warned the public not to look directly at the sun due to the danger of eye damage.

Around 500 people gathered in London's Regent's Park under an overcast sky, hopeful of a glimpse of the partial eclipse as it moved across European skies before heading northwards via North Africa and the Middle East.

A police officer handed out special eclipse viewer glasses.

Eight-year-old Rufus Aagaard had brought along a home-made viewer, fashioned out of a cardboard tube.

"It's made of cardboard, paper, Sellotape and tin foil, and a pinprick on the end," he told AFP.

More than 8,000 visitors gathered in the Faroes, where the total eclipse began at 9:41 am (0941 GMT), and some 1,500 to 2,000 were expected in Svalbard, where it started at 11:11 am (1011 GMT).

Juliana Opielka from Germany scours Svalbard for polar bears. Photo: Jon Olav Nesvold / NTB Scanpix

A group of 50 Danes bought tickets aboard a Boeing 737 chartered by a science magazine to watch the event from the skies above the Faroe Islands.

While they will be shielded from the vagaries of Faroese weather, there are some things they won't get to experience when watching the eclipse from the sky.

"If you're on the ground you can hear the birds behaving differently, and the temperature falls," John Valentin Mikkelsen, a 63-year-old teacher from the Danish city of Aarhus told AFP.Svalbard anticipation. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix

The threat of polar bears 

In Svalbard, which is just emerging from four months of winter darkness, hotels have been fully-booked for years ahead of the event, the 10th solar eclipse of the 21st century.

In the Arctic archipelago, where everything is extreme, visitors must contend with temperatures as low as -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit) at this time of year.

And then there's the threat of roaming polar bears.

A Czech tourist who was lightly injured in a polar bear attack on Thursday served as a reminder of the danger posed by the animals, which have killed five people since 1971 in Svalbard.

Total eclipses occur when the moon moves between Earth and the Sun, and the three bodies align precisely.

The moon as seen from Earth is just broad enough to cover the solar face, creating a breath-taking silver halo in an indigo sky pocked by daytime stars.

Elsewhere, the eclipse was partial, to varying degrees: the sun was 97 percent hidden in Reykjavik, 93 percent in Edinburgh, 84 percent in London and 78 percent in Paris.

The next total solar eclipse visible from Europe is not due until August 12th 2026.

Another celestial phenomenon is also expected on Friday.

Earth's satellite will appear as a "supermoon," which happens at its closest point to our planet, its perigee.

This, and the moon's alignment with the sun, will add to the gravitational pull on the seas — creating what is literally a high point in the 18-year
lunar cycle.

The celestial ballet will on Saturday result in major tides most perceptible in Canada's Bay of Fundy, on the French Atlantic coast, in the English Channel and North Sea — but even the Mediterranean will feel the difference.

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Why the northern lights might be visible in more of Norway than usual

Current atmospheric conditions mean there's a good chance the aurora borealis will be visible across much more of Norway than normal on Friday.

Why the northern lights might be visible in more of Norway than usual
Photo by stein egil liland from Pexels

Normally, the northern lights are only visible in northern Norway, typically between April and September.

According to the Geophysical Institute of Alaska the KP index, which is a system of measuring aurora strength, will reach Kp 5 out of a possible 9.

Anything Kp 5 and above is classed as a geomagnetic storm. This means you will be able to see the green lady a lot further south than you usually would.

The reason for this high forecast is “corona holes” (no relation to the pandemic). These are holes in the Sun’s atmosphere, where solar wind is thrown out at high speeds.

The northern lights occur when the protons and electrons from solar wind hit the particles in the Earths atmosphere and release energy.  

“You can see it down towards eastern Norway as an arc on the horizon, while in central Norway and in Trøndelag it will be right over your head.” Pål Brekke, head of space research at the Norwegian Space Center, told newspaper VG.

READ MORE:Taking pictures of the Northern Lights: 10 expert photography tips 

While there will be strong northern lights activity over large parts of the country, it does not necessarily mean that everyone will get to see it.

“It doesn’t look too promising in Nordland and Troms”, state meteorologist, Sjur Wergerland told VG.

However, he also added that the forecast looks much better further south.

Even then though there is no guarantee you will see the northern lights, according to Brekke.

“It is not certain that the northern lights will move as far south as we think, but I recommend people to follow forecasts on websites to stay up to date,” he said.

In order to see the northern lights, the weather will also have to be on your side. Clear skies are best and going to areas with no or low light pollution is important too.

If you are lucky enough to see the lights make sure you don’t wave at them. Doing so will cause the lights to lift you up and take you away according to Norwegian folklore.