The dark side of the moon ...

The forecast is for cloudy weather, but - fingers crossed - if it clears then you may see a partial eclipse as you drive to work on Friday

As you drive to work tomorrow (Friday), don’t be afraid if night suddenly appears to fall - you will be witnessing something rare, a solar eclipse.

It won’t be a full eclipse, but Fifers can expect more than 90 per cent of the sun to disappear during the eclipse, casting a Stygian gloom over the countryside.

And it’s a rarity as St Andrews University astronomer Anne-Marie Weijmans explained: “A total eclipse is quite rare - every 18 months or so there is one visible from a small area somewhere on Earth.

‘‘But a partial eclipse, such as we will see this week, occurs two to four times a year.”

An eclipse happens when the moon blocks the sunlight reaching the Earth by moving in front of the sun, which seems odd when the sizes of the two objects are compared.

“The sun is huge,” Dr Weijmans said, “and the moon is very tiny by comparison. It’s to do with the distances between the Earth, moon and sun.”

At that point, the maths become complicated - suffice to say the sun is around 150 million kilometres from Earth and the moon about 385,000 kilometres away and it’s those distances and relative sizes of the objects that allow the moon to appear large enough to block the sun.

The ability to see the eclipse will, of course, depend on clear skies on Friday morning with first contact expected at 8.31 a.m. and the end of the eclipse due at 10.45 a.m. with maximum coverage at around 9.36 am.

Astronomers warn observers to take care when viewing an eclipse.

Be careful if viewing the eclipse

Be careful if viewing the eclipse

“Never look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse,” Dr Weijmans emphasised, “even during a total eclipse the light can damage the eye.”

Perhaps the best way of all to see the eclipse, though, is to go along to the St Andrews University’s School of Physics and Astronomy where optical telescopes will be set up outside with the appropriate filters and with some projecting it for easier viewing.

Let there be light ...

2015 is the United Nations designated Year of Light - IYL 2015. It will highlight the importance of light and optical technologies, in the future for the development of society.

A partial eclipse, such as we will see this week, occurs two to four times a year

Dr Anne-Marie Weijmans

Events are happening across the country and Fife is playing its part. St Andrews University is promoting SHINE which brings bringing together astronomy and the arts - more at www.shine.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk.