Only lucky few in Ireland witness big event
DENSE cloud covered great swathes of the country as people attempted to glimpse a partial eclipse of the sun.
A few lucky breaks at dawn ensured many people were able to catch sight of the dark moon 'taking a bite' out of the bright disc of the sun as it hovered above the eastern horizon.
The partial eclipse of the sun was touted as the major astronomical event for 2011 in this part of the world. Millions of people throughout much of Europe and north Africa caught a glimpse of it as dawn broke, while further east it occurred closer to sunset in central Russia and north-west China.
People in north-east Sweden were treated to the best view with the moon covering almost 85pc of the sun's diameter.
David Moore, chairman of Astronomy Ireland, explained that stargazers in Ireland will now have to wait until March 2015 to glimpse the next eclipse visible from Ireland.
"We glimpsed a beautiful eclipse up at Howth summit in Dublin at 8.50am on the dot when the sun burst out of the clouds. It was clear for about 15 minutes," he said.
"There was a tiny break in the clouds. I'm not sure how many could see it throughout the country."
However, he said they had initially been dubious about the possibility of glimpsing the event from Dublin due to the swathes of heavy cloud covering the country.
The phenomenon also resulted in a dip in light during the morning as workers returned to their jobs after Christmas.
Pictures from professional and amateur photographers throughout Ireland and Europe have provided a breathtaking account of the rare event for those whose vision might have been obstructed.
Amateur photographs from throughout the country are being displayed on the society's website, www.astronomy.ie.
"The view was spectacular. The black disc moved over around a third of the sun's diameter," Mr Moore said. They had glimpsed it through their telescopes through special sun filters.
Alan Fitzsimmons, professor of astronomy at Queen's University Belfast, said the event had occurred as the moon passed between the Earth and the sun and blotted out up to 40pc of the sun.
He described a partial eclipse as nothing more than a "beautiful sight to see" in scientific terms. However, experts pay close attention to a total eclipse as it can provide scientists with vital information when viewed through a large-scale telescope.
"We can use that to study the innermost atmosphere of the sun, the so-called inner corona around the surface. We can gets some very interesting and important scientific information," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
On December 21 last -- the shortest day of the year -- a total lunar eclipse occurred when the full moon was shadowed by the Earth.
Over this century an eclipse will be visible from Ireland on average every 2.3 years. There will be three other partial solar eclipses during 2011 but none will be visible from Ireland.
The next partial eclipse visible from Ireland will occur on March 20, 2015, while people will have to wait until September 23 in the year 2090 to view the next total eclipse.