Views of a partial solar eclipse will be “somewhat fleeting” across certain parts of the UK due to cloudy skies, forecasters have said.
But those in central and south-east England will have clear spells to witness the spectacle, according to the Met Office. On Thursday morning, skygazers will be able to see nearly a third of the sun being blocked out by the moon in what is known as an annular eclipse.
An annular eclipse occurs when the sun and moon are exactly in line with the Earth, but the apparent size of the moon is smaller than that of the sun. This causes the sun to appear as a very bright ring, or annulus, in a phenomenon known as the “ring of fire”.
But weather permitting, observers in the UK and Ireland will see a crescent sun instead of a ring, as this will be a partial eclipse. The Met Office has said parts of the UK will be cloudy although most regions are expected to remain dry.
The Met Office spokesperson Stephen Dixon said: “Thursday morning will see more cloud than recent days over east, south-east and much of southern England though some good breaks are likely with sunny spells. Similar conditions are likely over east and north-east Scotland with all these areas having the best visibility of the solar eclipse.
“There will be clear spells over much of central and south-east England. Much of the far south-west of England, Wales, Northern Ireland, western and central Scotland will have more in the way of cloud cover, and whilst this may thin by day, the likelihood is that visibility of the eclipse will be somewhat fleeting.
“It will be dry for many, particularly eastern areas, whilst western areas and high ground here are more likely to see some light rain and drizzle.”
Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said the “ring of fire” would be seen from Russia, Greenland and northern Canada.
She said: “From the UK, the annular solar eclipse will be a partial eclipse, meaning that we’ll only see the moon pass in front of a small part of the sun.”
Drabek-Maunder said the phenomenon would begin at 10.08am on Thursday in the UK, with the maximum eclipse occurring at 11.13am, when the moon would cover close to one-third of the sun. The partial eclipse will end at 12.22pm.
Even though a large part of the solar disc will be covered, looking at the partially eclipsed sun without appropriate protection can cause serious and permanent damage to the eyes.
Drabek-Maunder said: “The eclipse from the UK will only be visible with certain techniques and optical aids. Never look at the sun directly or use standard sunglasses – it can cause serious harm to your eyes.”
It is also not wise to look at the sun through binoculars, telescopes or a telephoto lens on an SLR camera.
She suggested using a simple pinhole projector, solar eclipse viewing glasses – which can be purchased online – or special solar filters that can fit on telescopes, to observe the eclipse.
“You can make a projector by poking a small hole into a piece of card. Hold the card up to the sun so that light shines through the hole and on to a piece of paper behind the card. You will be able to see the shape of the sun projected on to the piece of paper and watch its shape change as the moon passes in front of the sun.”
The Royal Observatory Greenwich is also livestreaming the eclipse on its website and YouTube channel.