Eyes on the road! Rush-hour solar eclipse warnings issued
For the first time in 16 years, the sun will be eclipsed by the moon for two hours on Friday March 20, beginning at 08.30 GMT.
Observers in the UK and Ireland will be able to witness a partial solar eclipse, with up to 97 percent of the sun blocked out.
Those viewing in London will see 84 percent of the sun covered, whereas in Edinburgh the proportion is 93 percent.
Outdoor gatherings will be held nationwide to witness the rare phenomenon, which will not happen again until August 12, 2026.
— Met Office (@metoffice) March 16, 2015
The timing of Friday’s eclipse could present some hazardous conditions for road users, however, as the celestial event coincides with the morning rush hour. Road safety regulators have urged motorists to keep their eyes firmly on the road.
A Highways Agency spokesperson told The Independent: “Safety is a top priority. As always, we advise road users to drive carefully, adjusting their driving according to weather and road conditions and during the eclipse we’d ask them to do the same.”
Robin Scagell, vice president of the Society for Popular Astronomy (SPA), said: “Unlike every other eclipse of any size, this one takes place right in the middle of the rush hour. It’s not the best time from a safety point of view.”
Although the majority of the sun will be covered, looking directly at the eclipse without eye protection can cause “serious and permanent damage.”
Damage may lead to permanent blindness caused by the sun’s scorching rays.
— RAS (@RoyalAstroSoc) March 12, 2015
The Royal Astronomical Society and the Society for Popular Astronomy has jointly issued a guide to safe eclipse viewing.
The sun must never be viewed with the naked eye, as its photosphere emits hot infrared and high energy ultraviolet radiation, which can burn skin and similarly burn eyes if looked at directly.
One of the safer ways to watch the eclipse is by using a small mirror, as it can be used to reflect the image of the eclipse onto a white wall or sheet of paper.
Viewers are asked to note that looking directly into the mirror is “just as dangerous as looking at the sun.”
Another safe way to watch the eclipse is to use special viewers, which are made of card with special material inlaid. They must be checked for holes or scratches.
— RAS (@RoyalAstroSoc) March 13, 2015
One creative option is to make a pinhole viewer, which will allow a speck of light through to create an image. Similarly, a kitchen colander can be held between the Sun and a sheet of paper for the same effect.
Telescopes and binoculars, with one eyepiece covered, can also be used to project an image onto a plain card if held one foot away.
Scagell said the event will be “memorable,” but warned if it is not viewed safely it could pose a “serious risk to people’s eyesight.”
“A partial eclipse is more risky by far than a total eclipse because people don’t realize that even looking at a thin sliver of the sun is dangerous,” she said.
“Sunglasses are useless,” as the sun’s rays can still burn the retina, she added.
A spokeswoman for The Royal College of Ophthalmologists says there is “no safe system” to directly view an eclipse.
“Particular care should be taken with children” as parents should guard them from looking directly at the sun at any time, she said.