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Issue Date: 3/11/2015
Item No.: PPS000315
Total solar eclipse on March 20, 2015
The Moon orbits Earth and Earth revolves around the Sun. The moon completes its orbit around Earth in just under a month, thus passing between Earth and the Sun 12-13 times a year. This phase is called the new moon. If the Moon is right in front of the Sun in this phase, we have a total solar eclipse. Generally, however, the Moon passes either above the Sun or below the Sun, because the Moon’s orbit around Earth is not in the ecliptic, which is Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
The first new moon in 2015 occurs on January 20, the second on February 19, the third on March 20 etc. The twelfth and last new moon in 2015 is on the 11th of December. On March 20 the Moon will in fact pass right in front of the Sun in a shadow zone, which is rapidly moving up The North Atlantic Ocean west of the Faroe Islands. Therefore, the solar eclipse on March 20, 2015 will be total in the Faroe Islands. The shadow zone is only a few hundred kilometres wide, which means that you must be in that zone if you want to experience the total eclipse. Outside the total shadow zone, you can experience a partial eclipse in a much larger area thousands of kilometres wide.
The situation is different with lunar eclipses. They can only be experienced at full moon. Then Earth will pass between the Moon and the Sun, i.e. lunar eclipses occur about 14 days before or 14 days after the new moon. Lunar eclipses can be observed from very large areas on Earth’s night side, because the shadow of the Earth is about four times as wide as the diameter of the Moon.
In Tórshavn the solar eclipse on March 20, 2015 starts when the lunar disc makes contact with the solar disc at about 8:38:50 depending on the observer’s location. At 9:40:52 the Moon covers the disc of the Sun. The total eclipse lasts for about 2 minutes, and at 9:42:53 the Sun reappears. At 10:47:38 the Moon moves out of the solar disc and the eclipse is over.
If it is a clear day, you will see the Sun in a southeasterly position about 20 degrees above the horizon. To the east of the Sun, the planets Venus and Mars will be seen, and Mercury will be visible to the west of the Sun. If it is a clear day, you will also able to observe the atmosphere of the Sun, the corona. Whatever the weather forecast it will be dark or nearly dark.
The last total solar eclipse that could be seen in the Faroe Islands was on June 30, 1954, and after the eclipse on March 20, 2015, the next total solar eclipse to be visible in the Faroe Islands will be in northernmost part of the Faroes in 2245.
An old Faroese legend refers to what we believe is a total solar eclipse. The legend “Hargarbrøður” is about four brothers, who lived in the village of Sumba, the southernmost village in the Faroe Islands. The brothers disagreed on everything and quarrelled a lot. We know that the brothers must have lived around the year 1600. The legend says, “In two groups they went and herded their sheep and had come to Fløur. Then suddenly darkness descended upon them. They were very afraid and promised that if the good Lord would let them live, they would become better people. Then light reappeared, and they embraced each other and promised that this would mark the end of all quarreling. After this they agreed on everything and tried to help each other in every way.”
The brothers have undoubtedly experienced a total solar eclipse. This probably refers to the total solar eclipse that occurred in The Faroe Islands on May 30, 1612. If it was a clear day, the brothers in Sumba would have been able to see the planets Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Saturn, and the Sun would have been in a southeasterly position not far from the star Aldebaran.
It is imperative that you protect your eyes during a solar eclipse! Always observe the phenomenon through approved safety glasses. Do not stare at the Sun without protection and never observe the Sun directly through a telescope, because you can become blind in a split second. Only while the eclipse is total, you can safely observe the phenomenon without eye protection.
On the Faroese stamps, which commemorate the total solar eclipse, the artist uses his artistic freedom to draw the sun east of Nólsoy as seen from Tórshavn. This island is located to the east just outside the Faroese capital. Like a giant breakwater, it protects the city against the big ocean waves. In reality however, the Sun will be visible farther south during the eclipse.