Published on March 21st, 2015 | by Maxime Grandin


Artikkel er gjengitt med tillatelse fra Maxime Grandin

Today, on 20 March 2015, Svalbard was clearly the best place to observe the total solar eclipse. As most of Europe benefited from partial occultation of the sun (as well as cloudy conditions, or so I have heard), only two places could enjoy totality: the Faroe Islands and Svalbard. It seems that the weather was quite cloudy on the Faroe Islands, unfortunately for the tourists and journalists who had travelled there in hope of seeing the eclipse. On Svalbard, though, we could not have wished for a better day! The sun was shining (well, except during the total phase) and no clouds were in sight, contrary to most (ahem, almost all) of the days before since its return.

Many visitors (rumours claim about 5000) came to the archipelago for the occasion, and the hotels had got fully booked as early as several years ago (or so I heard). Contrary to what we feared, no real food shortage happened in the shop, and all in all everything went fine. But let’s go back to the beginning.

Last weekend, I already started to get prepared for the eclipse. As I was really motivated in trying to take pictures, I made a solar filter for my camera, necessary during the partial phases. During the whole week, I could not help checking the weather forecast every now and then, although I was aware of the fact that the predictions would not necessarily reflect the actual weather. But only yesterday evening did I get really excited, after attending the eclipse warm-up talk held at UNIS. Following the advice given by the speakers, I carefully planned the settings to use for my camera on a quite detailed timeline, and practiced to check its feasibility.

This morning, the weather conditions were, as I said, unexpectedly great. At 09:00, a bus took a group of students – of which I was part – to the former aurora station, down in the valley. Indeed, during the totality phase, the sun was behind a mountain as seen from Longyearbyen; thus it was smart to get out of the settlement…

Upon arrival on the spot, everybody started to get prepared, setting up tripods and cameras, some of us patrolling to watch for potential polar bears (which fortunately never showed up). A solar projection screen was also installed, revealing one sunspot too small to be visible to the naked eye (it can be seen on some of the pictures above, though).

At 10:10:53, the eclipse began. Wearing the special protection glasses offered by UNIS, people could observe the sun being bitten more and more deeply by the moon. Because of the excitation (or maybe because of the -16°C-cold), many of us were hopping around. A few minutes before totality, the light started to feel slightly dimmer and more orange. But everything happened during the last thirty seconds before complete occultation of the sun, when light rays started to swipe across the ground and luminosity decreased very rapidly. At some point, the mountains about twenty miles to the southwest were in the shadow of the moon, just a few seconds before us. During that time, I followed meticulously my picture timeline, looking alternatively at my watch, my camera and (of course) the sun and around myself. At 11:10:43, the totality started. I have to say that, although I had tried to guess how it would feel like, I was very far from imagining how odd an impression it gives to see a black sun, surrounded by a bright-but-not-blinding corona. It was definitely not night-dark, though. I did not feel that 2 min 27 s had passed when the totality came to its end. Looking at the remote mountains and realizing that they were (already) sunlit again, while we were still in the shade for a few more seconds, was very strange. Somehow unreal. So, at 11:13:11, I took a few more pictures of the diamond ring effect, and then that was it.

The second partial phase clearly felt less exciting, as people were starting to get cold, especially in the feet, but still it went quite fast. The pictures seemed promising and everybody was smiling and happy. I kept on taking pictures until the very end of the eclipse, at 12:12:22. Back to Sjøskrenten (the student housing), I realize how lucky I have been to live such an amazing experience. And I assume that I may for some reason travel to Spain at some point in August 2026…

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Photography credits: Maxime Grandin

Maxime Grandin is a french student who is preparing his PhD in space physics at Sodankylä Geophysical Observatory, an independent department of the University of Oulu (Finland), with a co-supervision by the University of Toulouse 3. He is now taking a semester of courses in Arctic Geophysics at UNIS, to fulfil his academic study requirements from the University of Oulu.

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