With moon about to pass in front of the sun, blocking its rays from falling on the US in a total solar eclipse, it is not only stargazers in America who might want to reach for their protective glasses – a partial eclipse is expected to be visible elsewhere, including the UK.
While viewers in Hopkinsville, Kentucky will see the surface of the sun fully blocked for 2min 40sec this afternoon, those in the UK might also be able to enjoy the event, albeit with a rather less dramatic view. Shortly before sunset, at about 8pm tonight, viewers in the UK will be able to see what appears to be a nibble taken out of the sun.
“You’ll see just the tiny edge of the moon as the moon moves off the disc of the sun,” said Chris Lintott, professor of astrophysics at the University of Oxford and co-presenter of The Sky at Night.
That is, however, assuming the weather perks up.
According to the Met Office, most of the UK is unlikely to offer decent views of the event, with those in the south-west, Wales and Shetland having the best chance of a sighting of the celestial spectacle.
“There’s quite a bit of cloud around, as there has been really for much of the UK through the day,” said Oli Claydon, a spokesman for the Met Office.
Those expecting an eerie darkness will also be disappointed: only about 4% of the sun will be blocked.
With the last total solar eclipse visible in the UK having taken place in 1999, those hoping for a glimpse of tonight’s event might need to dig deep to find their protective glasses.
But, said Lintott, it is easy to check whether they are still suitable for gazing up into the sky. “Put them on and stare at a nearby light bulb and if you can see anything apart from the filament, if you see any sign of light from the bulb, then they are not safe to use,” he said.
For those who don’t have such eye-protection on hand, Lintott pointed out there are alternative ways to catch a glimpse of the partial eclipse. “You can project an image of the sun using a pinhole and a piece of card,” he said.
But, Lintott admitted, the best views of tonight’s phenomenon are likely to be found indoors. “I will be watching online and I think that is how most Brits are going to enjoy it,” he said.