Science & Environment

Early partial solar eclipse for 2011

Partial eclipse (Mark Kennedy)
Image caption The view from Alicante in south-east Spain

Tuesday witnessed the first partial solar eclipse of 2011.

People standing across a great swathe of the Earth's surface saw the Moon take a big bite out of the Sun.

For north Africa and much of Europe, the event began at sunrise, whereas in central Russia and north-west China, the spectacle occurred at sunset.

North-east Sweden had the best sight. From 0850 GMT, near the city of Skelleftea, the Moon covered almost 90% of the Sun's diameter.

To get that view, however, Swedish skywatchers would have needed a high vantage point, as both celestial bodies were skirting the horizon at that time.

As is always the case for solar eclipses, the public was warned to take great care.

Viewing the Sun's harsh light should only be done through protective equipment - proper solar glasses and solar telescopes, or through a pinhole projection system.

In many places, professional and amateur astronomy groups set up safe observing systems. In the UK, for example, there were a series of events tied into the BBC's Stargazing Live programmes.

Partial solar eclipses occur when the Sun and Moon do not quite align in the sky as viewed from Earth, and the deep shadow cast by the smaller body passing across the bigger one just misses the planet.

Nonetheless, the phenomenon resulted in a dip in light, depending on how big a chunk of the solar disc the Moon was seen to obscure.

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Media captionThe BBC's Jonathan Amos: "It's the beauty of seeing these celestial bodies move"

This effect varied from place to place and in time.

Northern Algeria was the first location to experience the eclipse at 0640 GMT.

In European cities like London and Paris, the eclipse was already under way as the Sun rose, and the Moon covered up almost 70% of our star by 0812 GMT in the British capital, and 65% of the solar disc by 0809 GMT in the French capital.

The further east the event tracked, the closer it got to local sunset. Central Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and north-west China all observed an eclipsed Sun dive over the horizon.

Image caption A view of the partial eclipse from Andy Green in Cambridge in eastern England

Although there are three more partial solar eclipses this year, for Europeans in particular Tuesday's event was the key one. They will not get another chance to see so much of the Sun being covered up by the Moon until 20 March 2015.

The next total solar eclipse is in November 2013 over the South Pacific. An annular eclipse, in which the Moon sits inside the Sun's disc but does not completely block out its light, occurs in May 2012 over the North Pacific.

Image caption BBC News website reader Gary Baker caught this view in Stockholm, Sweden
Image caption The best partial eclipse in Europe for several years. This view from Vayrac in the Lot, SW France
Image caption Reader Peter Foster saw the eclipse while on holiday in the Czech Republic
Image caption A Scottish perspective, from Nairn near Inverness
Image caption Stonehenge in southern England: A monument that has witnessed eclipses for thousands of years

Many thanks to all those BBC News website readers who sent in pictures, only a small proportion of which we have been able to feature on this page. We have put some others in a special gallery. We also have a collection of eclipse pictures taken by professional photographers from across Europe.

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