Northern Ireland

The dark side: travelling the globe for a perfect eclipse

A total solar eclipse in Turkey in 2009 Image copyright Paul Evans
Image caption Local astronomer Paul Evans captured this shot just moments before the total eclipse in China in 2009

It should be one of the most spectacular astronomical sights we will ever get to see - as long as the clouds stay away.

On Friday morning, people across Northern Ireland should be able to witness a deep partial eclipse of the sun, a rare phenomenon which occurs when the moon moves across the sky in front of the sun, blocking its light.

While most of us will be watching from our back gardens or as we travel to work, one local astronomer has gone in search of something more than just the bog-standard partial solar obscurity.

Eclipse-hunter Terry Moseley has made his way to the Faroe Islands where he hopes to see a total eclipse, a perfect alignment of moon and sun.

Terry travels the globe in search of what he describes as the "transformational" experience of witnessing totality, and his trip to the Faroes will be his fifth encounter with the dark side.

The current president of the Irish Astronomical Association, Terry is leading a group of astronomers to the islands in the North Atlantic, and will act as the eclipse advisor on the tour.

Despite having had an interest in astronomy for over 50 years, it wasn't until 1999 when he caught his first total eclipse, in Bulgaria. For him, it was an experience like no other.

"I have to admit that when I saw it, it blew my mind," Terry said, speaking from Torshavn, the Faroe capital.

"It is almost indescribable and no video or any words I could say can do it justice. It is literally day turning to night in the middle of the day. It looks as if an angry God has punched a hole in the sky.

"From the moment of first contact - when the moon takes that first bite of the sun - that's when you know it's actually happening and the tension really mounts.

"For the last few seconds it's indescribable. Everybody is just going crazy, some people go into a trance and can hardly believe what they're seeing, others laugh, cry, shout, dance around in glee and ecstasy - it really is almost a spiritual experience."

Image copyright Paul Evans
Image caption Members of the Irish Astronomical Association travelled to Turkey in 2006 to view this total eclipse

Terry will watch the eclipse from a school in the village of Eide on the north-west tip of Eysturoy, the second-largest of the Faroes, and will explain to the pupils there what they can expect to see.

There is no guarantee he will have a perfect view, but he is hoping for a clear day.

"Even if it is cloudy, the sky darkens dramatically and the temperature drops. It's almost scary," he explained.

"The sky will get fairly dark, it will almost be like mid-twilight. There will be a drop in temperature and some animals may react as if it is twilight - birds will go to roost and cows and sheep will lie down."

Terry has also trekked to Turkey, China and Australia in search of eclipses, and with a long wait until 2090 for the next total eclipse visible on the island of Ireland, he has already started planning the journey to the United States for his next.

"It really is an experience that you can become addicted to," he said. "Each one is different, though, and that's part of the beauty.

"But you never forget your first time. The first total eclipse makes an indelible imprint on you because you've never seen it before.

"There are some fairly accessible ones coming up over the next few years. In August 2017 there will be one that crosses the US diagonally from Oregon to South Carolina.

"I'd say to people to put that at the top of their bucket list and go and do it."

Related Topics