Solar eclipse action in Longyearbyen

Solar eclipse action in Longyearbyen

Top image: The sun during the maximum eclipse of 93% on August 1st 2008 at 11:41 over Longyearbyen Photo: Stig Foss/UNIS.

Today between 10:39 and 12:43, Longyearbyen was a perfect place to observe the sun disappear behind the moon. The sun was covered to 93% at the maximum at 11:41.

1 August 2008
Text : Christiaane Hübner

The University Centre of Svalbard (UNIS), the European Incoherent SCATter Scientific Association (EISCAT) and Svalbard Science Forum had invited the inhabitants and vistors of Longyearbyen to a celebration of this event in front of Svalbard Science centre.

Between 300-400 interested people gathered in order to listen to a popular science lecture about solar eclipses, to eat eclipse cookies, and to make their own solar eclipse with a scaled model. Or they simply watched the progress of the moon movement in front of the sun with special eclipse sun glasses. The glasses were very popular and fast sold out, but those that came too late to buy eclipse glasses could observe the event safely via a projection through a telescope.

Large media interest
The weather conditions were perfect, no wind and only a thin cloud cover that almost disappeared entirely when the eclipse reached its maximum. Thus, it was possible to feel the air grow colder and the light get dimmer as the sun slowly vanished behind the moon.

‘The conditions for observing the solar eclipse were beyond all expetations’ sayss Kjellmar Oksavik, associate professor for geophysics at UNIS. He had invited Stig Foss from the Norwegian Astronomical Society with his solar telescope up on the roof of UNIS to document the eclipse with close up pictures. In addition, UNIS had pointed its webcam at the Kjell Henriksen Observatory towards the sun and broadcasted pictures taken through a solar filter live on the internet. Both picture series have been distributed worldwide and many news media have picked up these pictures. In addition, several reporters were present during this unique event.

A large ocean steamer plowing through the atmosphere
The solar eclipse is not only spectacular to watch, it is also an important event for science. Both in Ny-Ålesund and Longyearbyen researchers were studying the effects of this eclipse and the EISCAT Svalbard radar was monitoring processes in the atmosphere.

‘Imagine the shadow of the moon plowing through the atmosphere as a ship plows through an ocean, producing waves behind it.’ explains Lisa Baddely from EISCAT. ‘Small atmospheric gravity waves always exist and allow the energy to be transferred between the different layers of the atmosphere. However, the waves created by the movement of the shadow of the moon through the atmosphere are much larger and easy to distinguish. First results show that there was a tremendous decrease in temperature and density of ionospheric electrons during the period of the eclipse. But these data have now to be analysed thouroughly before any conclusions can be drawn.

‘Solar eclipses are brilliant for science’ says Lisa Baddely, ‘when else do you have the opportunity to switch off the sun and cause large pertubations in the atmosphere?’.

Solar eclipse collage

Snapshots of the solar eclipse event on 1 August 2008 in front of Svalbard Science Centre Photos: Sébastien Barrault/UNIS.


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