Total solar eclipse in Faroe Islands, Norway on March 20: 8 facts about the rare phenomenon

On Friday, people in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago south-west of Scotland, and those in Svalbard, Norway, will get to see a total solar eclipse. Those who live in Europe, Northern Africa, and parts of the Middle East will be able to see a partial solar eclipse. The event will take place from 3.41pm Singapore time to 7.50pm Singapore time tomorrow, but this solar eclipse is not visible from Singapore.

Here are 8 things you may want to know about this rare natural phenomenon.

1. What is a total solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon lines up directly between the Earth and the Sun. The Moon casts its shadow on Earth, causing a total eclipse.

2. How often does a total solar eclipse occur?

It happens about once every 18 months, usually in a different part of the world each time. The Moon travels between the Earth and the Sun about once a month. But because its orbit is tilted slightly, compared to the Earth's orbit around the Sun, the Moon is usually too high or too low in the sky to completely get in the way of the Sun's light.

3. Isn't the Sun bigger than the Moon?

Yes, the Sun is about 400 times bigger than the Moon, but it is also about 400 times farther from us. This makes both the Sun and the Moon appear roughly the same size when viewed from Earth. This is why the Moon appears to be able to cover the entire Sun.

4. Will I damage my eyes if I look directly into the Sun?

Yes. The Sun's rays are damaging, even if looked at for a few seconds. The Sun's rays are so intense you can feel their warmth from 150 million km away. Looking at the Sun directly allows ultraviolet light to flood in and burn the light-sensitive cells. This may lead to permanent blurry vision and blind spots. Those who want to view the eclipse should buy special eclipse glasses which do not allow light to pass through.

5. Will the eclipse be visible from Singapore?

Friday's solar eclipse will not be visible from Singapore. On March 9, 2016, however, a partial solar eclipse will be visible from Singapore. At the time, parts of Indonesia, such as Palembang and Sulawesi, will experience a total solar eclipse.

6. How long does a total solar eclipse last?

In recent times, the longest a total solar eclipse has lasted is about 6 min 39 seconds in 2009, off the coast of Japan. The minimum length of time the Sun usually remains blocked out by the Moon is about a minute.

7. Are solar eclipses signs from above?

In ancient China, the solar eclipse was regarded as one of the heavenly signs to foretell the future of the Emperor. The ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses occurred when a legendary celestial dragon devoured the Sun. It was a tradition in ancient China to bang drums and pots and make loud noise during eclipses to frighten that dragon away. Even more recently, in the 19th century, the Chinese navy fired its cannons during a lunar eclipse to scare the dragon that was believed to be eating the Moon.

8. Where can I watch a live stream of the total solar eclipse?

Two websites that are offering live streaming are http://www.space.com/19195-night-sky-planets-asteroids-webcasts.html and http://live.slooh.com/stadium/live/the-total-solar-eclipse-of-2015

Sources: BBC, Gary Chee, Nasa

jalmsab@sph.com.sg