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Spring trifecta ends splendid week — solar eclipse, supermoon and equinox

A total solar eclipse. (NASA)
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The past few days have been great for sky-watchers as a beautiful aurora sank as far south as the Midwest and Northeast on Tuesday night, the result of a severe geomagnetic storm. And Friday will add even more splendor as three astronomical events coincide on one day: a total solar eclipse, a supermoon and the vernal equinox.

Friday at 6:45 p.m. will mark the vernal equinox and the first day of astronomical spring. At this point, the direct rays of the sun are passing over the equator, perpendicular to Earth. It might not feel like spring with snow still in the forecast for many in the eastern U.S., but it is the first day in the march toward summer as the sun’s direct rays return from their Southern Hemisphere vacation.

[Aurora photos from the U.S. and beyond]

But earlier in the day on Friday, a possibly more interesting astronomical event will be occurring — a total solar eclipse. The eclipse, which reaches its greatest point at 4:45 a.m., can be seen in partial form across northwest Africa, most of Europe and northern Asia.

The total eclipse can be seen from points in the North Atlantic, south of Iceland, on the Faroe Islands north of the U.K., and Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago halfway between northern Europe and the North Pole.

To make the day triple-noteworthy, the moon will be a “supermoon,” even though it’s in a new phase and not visible. The moon reaches lunar perigee, its orbit’s closest point to Earth, on Thursday afternoon just before entering new. If the moon were visible, it would appear slightly larger in the sky.

[Severe geomagnetic storm spurs beautiful aurora]

Friday’s solar eclipse won’t be visible in North America, but you can watch it on Slooh.com‘s livestream starting at 4:30 a.m. They’re setting up shop on the Faroe Islands, north of the U.K. and close to the point of greatest eclipse. That means anyone with an Internet connection can watch the eclipse in its full, total glory.

So how often do solar eclipse and vernal equinoxes occur on the same day? Good question! According to EarthSky, the next time this convergence will happen is in 19 years, on March 20, 2034. They’ve also written a thorough explanation of why they don’t necessarily coincide every 19 years in that story — recommended reading for any sky-watching enthusiast.

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