Photos by Sophie Condon
To the naked eye, especially for those unaware, the mostly clear skies in Longyearbyen at midday Thursday looked pretty much the same as they do 24 hours a day during the three-and-a-half-month long polar summer.
But those with the right filters got to see most of the sun blotted out (about 71 percent) in the world’s northernmost town at 78 degrees latitude north during four-hour “Ring of Fire” annular eclipse.
Of course, being this far north also presents potential problems for eclipse hopefuls, such as the grey skies that brought periods of snow several times during the past several days.
“Sometimes you are just lucky,” Andi Alex, an ice researcher, wrote on her Facebook page in one of numerous observations/photographs by locals on social media. “Two days ago I didn’t even know that we would have a solar eclipse in the Arctic today. Then we had a snow storm and I didn’t expect to see anything. But the snowstorm stopped for a few minutes during the eclipse before it picked up again. One of these lucky moments with everyone outside trying to watch it through CDs and smartphones as nobody had the special googles.”
The eclipse began at 10:12 a.m. local time, reached its maximum at 12:41 p.m. and ended at 2:11 p.m. But the difference was not highly noticeable to the naked eye, especially in areas outside town still covered with snow and ice, given the partial cloud cover that mean plenty of light/shadow exchanges throughout the day.
And Thursday’s eclipse pales in comparison (although perhaps in the opposite sense of the word) to the total solar eclipse seen perhaps most spectacularly in Longyearbyen on March 20, 2015. Every official guest room was booked several years in advance by eclipse hunters for that event and locals made a fortune renting out their simple flats and homes for 20,000 kroner (about $2,500 US at the time) and more a night on Airbnb. That day stands so brightly in Svalbard’s history there were nearly 50,000 people pledging immediately afterwards to come to the next total eclipse in Longyearbyen in 2061.
Among the wonders for those who spent more than two hours standing in snowfields outside town in the -20C cold was the sunlight in a clear sky didn’t appear dramatically less dim even when the sun was 99 percent covered. It was during the 147 seconds of totality that the sky that went dusk a few minutes earlier suddenly was blotted out like a light switch had been thrown.