The first day of spring is heralded this year by a solar eclipse that will reach full totality with a new super moon on top of the world, and astronomy buffs are gathering at points north to watch the moon blot out the sun’s rays for a brief instant.
Much of Europe is gearing up for a spectacular partial solar eclipse, even though the loss of sunlight could wreak havoc on solar energy grids on the continent, according to The Wall Street Journal. For the most part, though, sky lovers are pulling their eclipse glasses out of storage and setting up their telescopes in the likes of Iceland, northern England and Scandinavia. The eclipse begins in the morning in Europe and is over by 11, about 12 hours before the equinox occurs in that part of the world. The partial will be visible in Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East and northwestern Asia, according to Earthsky.org. Since much of the path of totality will be over open ocean in the North Atlantic, those on cruise ships will have the best vantage point, Astronomy.com says.
“Europe promises to be the center of the astronomical world March 20,” reports Astronomy.com, which is hosting a viewing of the eclipse via the Slooh Space Camera starting at 4:30 a.m. Eastern Time. “On that day, the Sun, Moon, and Earth align, and the Moon casts its shadow onto Earth’s surface. Where the alignment is exact—along a path that skirts south of Iceland before crossing the Danish Faroe Islands and Norway’s island of Spitsbergen—people will witness totality and bask in the glow of the Sun’s stunning corona. Across the remainder of Europe, observers will see a partial eclipse.”
While they don’t all happen at the same instant, the sky shenanigans all occur within the same 24-hour period, on March 20. On Turtle Island, the equinox—the point at which the sun crosses the Celestial Equator, that imaginary line in the sky that corresponds to the physical one on Earth—occurs at 6:45 p.m. Eastern Time.
“On March 20—same date as the 2015 March equinox—the moon turns new only 14 hours after reaching lunar perigee—moon’s closest point to Earth in its orbit,” says Earthsky.org. “Thus this moon is a supermoon—at the new phase—not visible in our sky, but having a larger-than-average effect on Earth’s oceans. Plus this new supermoon swings right in front of the equinox sun on March 20, so that the moon’s shadow falls on parts of Earth.”
“On this day, the sun rises due east and sets due west,” Earthsky.org says of the spring equinox. “That’s true no matter where you live on Earth, because we all see the same sky.”
So what is the meaning of all this? Not much, except soon there will be crocuses! And daffodils! And birdsong!
“The equinox represents a point on Earth’s orbit, but it’s also an event that happens on the imaginary dome of Earth’s sky,” explains Earthsky.org in a detailed description of the celestial equator, the imaginary line in the celestial dome that corresponds to the Equator. The sun crosses into the Northern Hemisphere. “All these components are imaginary, yet what happens at every equinox is very real—as real as the sun’s passage across the sky each day and as real as the change of the seasons."