EUROPE — What’s better than the sun on a March day in Europe, at the tail end of winter with spring on the doorstep? No sun, apparently. That was the verdict of many around the continent, who found Friday morning’s solar eclipse picture perfect. Millions from around North Africa, the Middle East as well as Europe woke up with a chance to see the rare cosmic event. For some of them, it was a partial eclipse; but others — say if you were at the North Pole, or in Svalbard or the Faroe Islands between Iceland and Norway — got the full deal.
Such eclipses are basically as old as the galaxy itself, happening when the moon and sun are at just the right distance from the Earth and they appear to be of the same apparent size in the sky — even though the sun is actually about 400 times larger. An eclipse happens when the moon passes right in front of the sun, blocking the sunlight and casting a shadow on the Earth.
That means what used to be morning suddenly looks like nighttime again, until the sun and moon get out of each other’s way.
Staring at the sun anytime can be a bit dangerous, even when it’s there, not there, then there again during an eclipse. That’s where the term “eclipse blindness” — which is really retinal burns — comes from.
Luckily, a lot of those peering into the skies Friday came prepared.
At least that was the case for famous Bayern Munich footballers Xabi Alonso and Pepe Reina, who looked cool looking up in their 3-D movie-type glasses.
Or a bunch of children at Stockport Grammar, a British school not far from Manchester.
One of them looked more like a welder than a stargazer but didn’t seem to mind, giving a thumbs-up to the view.
Not everyone was similarly enthused; not because they don’t love a good eclipse, but because they don’t like a bad one.
CNN’s Nick Thompson in London, for instance, went out hoping for an out-of-this-world experience and instead saw little more than a bunch of clouds.
He wasn’t alone, as many in Britain in particular didn’t get the big show they’d hoped for.
Still, not everyone was disappointed. That was true in the United Kingdom, whether you were Glasgow University students cheering when a glimpse of the eclipse emerged from the clouds or a bird soaring the sky.
And there were even more cheers elsewhere, in Berlin, Beirut and beyond. Norwegians, especially, got some of the most spectacular perspectives.
Eclipses aren’t everyday events, and they’re getting less common. While there will be more full eclipses, they will get rarer and rarer as the moon moves away from the Earth at a rate of about 3.8 centimeters (about 1.5 inches) every year. That means there will come a time when the moon will appear to be too small to cover the sun.
But don’t sweat it just yet: NASA calculates this will take about 563 million years, meaning there’s still time to catch another eclipse.
Weather permitting, of course.