SVALBARD, Norway — Those lucky enough to have been in the right place to see Friday’s total solar eclipse were treated to a spectacular event. The sun was completely obscured by the moon and an eerie deep twilight descended, with the brightest stars and planets coming into view.
The total eclipse was only seen in the narrow corridor known as the “path of totality” — or the “inner umbral shadow.” The area where the sun’s rays are only partially obscured is called the “penumbra.”
Friday’s eclipse fell across parts of North Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Millions were in the penumbra part of the shadow and able to see a partial eclipse, but the totality was only found in the North Pole, Svalbard and the Faroe Islands between the United Kingdom and Norway.
Solar eclipses are relatively common — partial eclipses are visible somewhere on Earth most years — but not necessarily in the same region. You might wait hundreds of years between two total eclipses at the same place.
And not all eclipses are the same. The moon follows an elliptical orbit around the Earth, which means it is sometimes closer to us — at “perigee” — and sometimes further away — at “apogee.”
At apogee, the moon doesn’t appear quite big enough to completely obscure the sun during a solar eclipse and an observer sees a ring of brilliant light around the moon. This is called an annular eclipse.
At perigee (as now) the sun was completely blocked by the moon during totality. This gives scientists a chance to study the sun’s atmosphere and help solve a cosmic conundrum.
A total solar eclipse is a phenomenon that won’t last forever.
The moon is moving away from the Earth at a rate of about about 1.5 inches every year. There will come a time when the moon will appear to be too small to cover the sun. But don’t worry, you still have to time to catch one — NASA calculates this will take about 563 million years.
As for the next total eclipse in the U.S., that will happen on Aug. 21, 2017, the first visible total eclipse from the contiguous United States since 1979.