Solar eclipse 2021: Will ring of fire eclipse delight UK skygazers?

7 June 2021, 06:13 | Updated: 7 June 2021, 09:40

A partial eclipse is caused when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun
A partial eclipse is caused when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A partial solar eclipse is set to enchant UK skygazers this week as the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun.

The astronomical phenomenon - also known as an annular eclipse - occurs when the Moon blocks some light from the Sun from reaching Earth, casting a shadow on the planet.

Some parts of Europe will witness a "ring of fire" eclipse, which takes place as the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, creating a very bright ring - known as an annulus.

However, other parts will experience a crescent Sun instead of a ring due to the alignment of the three celestial bodies.

So what is a partial solar eclipse? When is the 2021 solar eclipse? And how can you watch it safely?

A sparrow watching a rare partial solar eclipse in China
A sparrow watching a rare partial solar eclipse in China. Picture: PA

What is a partial solar 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 dubbed as the "ring of fire".

However, observers in the UK and Ireland will see a crescent Sun instead of a ring, as this will be a partial eclipse.

Nepalese people observing a partial solar eclipse using a solar filter
Nepalese people observing a partial solar eclipse using a solar filter. Picture: PA

When is the 2021 partial solar eclipse?

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.

Dr Emily Drabek-Maunder, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, said: "This 'ring of fire' will be seen from Russia, Greenland and northern Canada.

"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."

She said the phenomenon will begin at 10:08am on Thursday 10 June in the UK, with the maximum eclipse occurring at 11:13am, when the Moon will cover close to one-third of the Sun.

The partial eclipse will end at 12:22pm.

UK skygazers will see the partial solar eclipse on Monday
UK skygazers will see the partial solar eclipse on Monday. Picture: PA

How can you safely watch the partial solar eclipse?

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.

Dr 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 not to look at the Sun through binoculars, telescopes or a telephoto lens on an SLR camera.

Dr Drabek-Maunder suggests using a simple pinhole projector, solar eclipse viewing glasses - which can be purchased online, or special solar filters - which can fit on telescopes, to observe the eclipse.

She said: "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 live-streaming the eclipse on its website and YouTube channel.