20th March 2015 Solar Eclipse and Vernal Equinox
Having a total solar eclipse itself makes a date notable, but March 20th is extra special because it is also the March Equinox.
There are two equinoxes every year – in March and September – when the Sun shines directly on the equator and the length of night and day are nearly equal. On Friday March 20, 2015, the day and night will be of almost equal duration at most time zones in the world.
Japan treats this day as very important as it is the day People Remember their Ancestors. Higan (Higan-e or Ohigan), is a week of Buddhist services in Japan during the March and September equinoxes. Both equinoxes have been national holidays since the Meiji period (1868-1912). "Higan" means the “other shore” and refers to dead spirits who reach Nirvana after crossing the river of existence. It celebrates the spiritual move from the world of suffering to the world of enlightenment.
However what makes this day extremely special, this year is the fact that it also coincides with a total solar eclipse. A total solar eclipse coinciding with Northern Hemisphere's Spring Equinox and Southern Hemipshere's Autumn or Fall Equinox hasn't happened since 1662 and will not happen again until March 20, 2034.
2015 has 4 eclipses, the minimum number of eclipses that take place in a calendar year. There will be two solar eclipses – the March 20 Total Solar Eclipse and a Partial Solar Eclipse on September 13, 2015 – and two Lunar Eclipses, on April 4 andSeptember 28.
Total eclipses of the Sun happen when a new Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth and covers the entire disc of the Sun. In March 20, only 12 hours before the beginning of the eclipse, the Moon will be at its perigee – the point closest to the Earth on its orbit around it. This makes the Moon on March 20, 2015 a Super New Moon.
Unfortunately most of the grandness of this Total Solar Eclipse will go unnoticed because the path of totality, while fairly wide – around 300 miles (483 kms) – falls right over the Northern Atlantic Ocean between the coasts of Greenland and Norway. Only two populated and easy-to-access locations – Svalbard, an island belonging to Norway and the Faroe Islands – will the Sun be totally eclipsed. Interest in the Eclipse has been so high both among the scientific and the lay community that hotels in Svalbard were all booked out for the eclipse weekend way back in 2008!
If you do not live in or visit Svalbard or the Faroe Islands, do not despair. Most of Europe, northern and eastern Asia as well as northern and western Africa will be treated to a partial eclipse. Those in Europe are especially well located to view a spectacular Partial Solar Eclipse, with parts of Northern Europe, United Kingdom and Ireland being able to see almost 96% of the eclipse, weather permitting of course. The March 20, 2015 eclipse is the last Total Solar Eclipse visible from anywhere in Europe until August 12, 2026.
Remember the warning though, never look directly at the sun with the naked eye!