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One of the great natural events takes place on March 20, 2015 when a total solar eclipse is visible from the North Atlantic. This time, the narrow band of totality streaks across a path that starts in the ocean just south of Greenland, touches land in the Faroe Islands and Svalbard before finally ending at the North Pole. A partial eclipse is visible in Europe, North Africa and North and East Asia.

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partially obscuring the Sun's image for an observer on Earth. Total eclipses are only possible due to a piece of nature's luck. By sheer coincidence the Sun is about 400 times larger in size than the Moon but also about 400 times more distance and therefore to the observer on the ground, both the Sun and the Moon present about the same (apparent) size in the sky. The apparent size or diameter of the Sun and the Moon do exhibit small variations; at times the Moon appears slightly larger in the sky than the Sun and vice-versa.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon's apparent diameter is larger than the Sun and blocks all direct sunlight, turning day into darkness. This path of totality occurs inside a narrow band that touches the surface of the Earth. It has a maximum width of only 267 kilometres (167 miles). On the other hand, for a partial solar eclipse the shadow is many thousands of kilometres wide and the partial eclipse is visible over a much larger region.

Total Solar Eclipse on March 9, 1997

Eclipse Path on March 20, 2015

The diagrams below shows the visibility of this eclipse and the path of totality (Moons umbral shadow). The only populated places where the totality can be seen and can be reached by public travel are the Faroe Islands and Svalbard. The longest duration of totality is 2 minutes 46 seconds off the coast of the Faroe Islands at 9:46 UT. From the Faroe Islands capital city Torshavn, 2 minutes 2 seconds of totality occurs at 9:42 UT. Totality occurs 30 minutes later at 10:12 UT from Svalbard and lasts for 2 minutes and 25 seconds.

The penumbral shadow of the Moon (partial part of the eclipse) is visible over a much greater region. For example, Scotland and northern parts of England will experience at least a 90% partial eclipse, London an 84% partial eclipse and places in Netherlands, Belgium and northern Germany 80% obscured. From these locations, maximum partial eclipse occurs at about 9:30 UT.

A total lunar eclipse follows on April 4, 2015 and is visible over Australia, and the Pacific coast of Asia and North America.

Solar Eclipse of March 20th 2015 (Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC)

Animation of the Solar Eclipse of March 20th 2015 (A.T. Sinclair/NASA)