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A fantastic opportunity to visit Iceland is coming up. Ever more travelers are choosing to visit Iceland in the winter months in order to experience the glaciers and the snow covered highlands in all their glory, and to see the magnificent Northern Lights. On Friday, the 20th of March 2015, visitors will also be able to enjoy what is likely to be a once in a lifetime event for most people: a total solar eclipse, where the Moon will totally block all sunlight and turn day into night for a few minutes.

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 A Rare Opportunity

A total solar eclipse occurs on average about once every eighteen months somewhere on Earth, but only once every 360 years or so in any given location. A large part of our little planet, however, is either covered by ocean, or is generally inaccessible for most people. You are therefore not likely to witness such a rare event unless you seize the day when the opportunity presents itself. The eclipse on the 20th of March will only be seen as a perfect total eclipse (100% coverage) in two locations, which happen to be either impractical to get to or almost impossible to get to: the Faroe Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Svalbard islands in the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is the perfect alternative because it is easily accessible and it will offer an almost perfect solar eclipse experience  – the Moon will cover 97.5% of the Sun when observed from Reykjavik, and well over 99% when observed from the south-east coast.

 Convenient and Safe

In case you need to travel between the American continent and Europe, Icelandair makes it easy for you to have a long weekend in Iceland with its Stopover in Iceland deal, which allows you to stop for up to a week without additional airfare. The local travel agencies can arrange for hotels, as well as guided tours that will bring you to the best locations for experiencing the solar eclipse event. This way you will be provided with the proper equipment to view the eclipse. It is not safe to look directly into the Sun with bare eyes or normal sunglasses; you need special glasses to safely view the eclipse. 

Total Solar Eclipse Explained

The Moon revolves one circle around the Earth once every 29 and a half days from our viewpoint. Each circle starts with the New Moon lined up approximately between the Earth and the Sun. It does not block (or eclipse) the Sun at this stage because it is normally not perfectly lined up between us and the Sun. The New Moon actually appears slightly above or below the Sun, and thus does not block our view of the Sun. The Sun illuminates the side of the Moon that faces it, while the side that faces us receives no light, and the New Moon is therefore invisible to us. But twice a year, there is an eclipse season that lasts approximately 34 days, where the New Moon has the potential to line up perfectly to block the Sun. For a total solar eclipse to occur, the Moon has to cover the Sun even though the Sun’s diameter is 400 times that of the Moon. This can happen because the Sun is about 400 times farther away from us than the Moon, so the Sun and the Moon  appear equal in size. But a total eclipse does not always occur, in part because the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is slightly elliptical, which increases the Moon’s distance from the Earth at certain times. In those cases, the New Moon is too small to cover the Sun even if it is perfectly aligned to block it. Partial eclipses are most common, but they do not provide the awesome blackout experience of the rare total eclipses.