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Leaders of International Year of Light Comment on 20 March Solar Eclipse

Press Release From: Institute of Physics
Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2015

This Friday, 20 March 2015, the Moon will cast a shadow about 100 miles wide in which the Sun is obscured completely, and the Sun will be partly covered over a much more extensive area. The event will be a total eclipse for those in the Faroe Islands and Svalbard, but only a partial eclipse for viewers in the UK.

As well as being spectacular events, solar eclipses are also a good opportunity to do some valuable science because they allow observation of phenomena normally hidden or outshone by the Sun’s light.

The solar corona -- the Sun’s plasma outer atmosphere -- is one such area for study. We normally can’t see the corona (at visible-light wavelengths) since the Sun’s light is too bright, but eclipses provide a chance to get a better look, and astronomers are set to descend on the Faroe Islands and Svalbard in the hope of getting more insight into why the corona is so much hotter than the Sun’s surface.

2015 also marks the centennial of Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which was proven by Arthur Eddington during the 1919 eclipse. Arthur Eddington travelled to the island of Príncipe, off the west coast of Africa, where he took advantage of the solar eclipse to successfully test one of the predictions of Einstein’s general theory of relativity -- that the path taken by light bends in a gravitational field, known as gravitational lensing.

A number of eclipse-viewing parties across the UK will be taking place to observe the eclipse safely and learn more about astronomy as well as a nationwide live weather experiment organized by scientists at Reading University who are asking the general public to send in their observations of the changes in weather that will occur during the eclipse.

Dr. Beth Taylor, Chair of the UK National Committee for the International Year of Light on behalf of the IOP, said: “2015 is the International Year of Light and what a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the importance of light during this rare event. I hope people up and down the country, from Shetland to the Channel Isles, have the chance to experience it and that it has inspired people to think about how vital light really is and support IYOL’s commitment to champion solar lighting in the developing world.”

Professor John Dudley, Chair of the International Year of Light Steering Committee, said: “The aim of the International Year of Light is to raise awareness of the importance of light and light-based technologies for sustainable development, and let’s view the March 20 eclipse as nature playing its own part in reminding us of just how important light is to us all. An eclipse reminds us of just how central our Sun is to our planet -- it is sunlight that is the fundamental source of energy that drives life and solar energy is the natural sustainable energy solution for tomorrow.”

Contact:
Sophie Hetherton
IOP Media Officer
+44 (0)20 7470 4921, cell: +44 (0)78 0864 1774
sophie.hetherton@iop.org

More about the history of eclipses and how to view eclipses safely:
http://www.iop.org/resources/topic/page_65318.html

The Institute of Physics (IOP, http://www.iop.org) is a leading scientific society. We are a charitable organization with a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, working together to advance physics education, research and application. We engage with policymakers and the general public to develop awareness and understanding of the value of physics and, through IOP Publishing, we are world leaders in professional scientific communications.

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