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Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 05:53 GMT 06:53 UK

All eyes on eclipse

Eclipse watchers are getting ready for the big event

Click here to let us know what you saw.

Millions of people are expected to pause to watch the first total eclipse on the British mainland since 1927, despite gloomy predictions about the weather clouding their view.

The eclipse shadow is currently heading across the Atlantic towards the UK at 1,630 miles per hour.

It will plunge the western tip of Cornwall into complete darkness at around 1100 BST when the Moon obscures the Sun.

Elsewhere in the country the eclipse will blot out 97% of the Sun in London and Bristol, 89% in Leeds, 82% in Glasgow and 65% in the far north of Scotland.

Workers down tools

In London, trials at the Old Bailey will be briefly adjourned to allow jurors and lawyers - but not defendants - to go outside and watch the eclipse.

Carole Jones reports: "No one will know how much of the eclipse will be visible"
The start of first class cricket matches around the country are being postponed until 11.45 BST to avoid having to stop for bad light, and the National Veterans' Tennis Championships at Wimbledon are also expected to be disrupted.

Many firms are planning to allow employees to stop work and go outside for half an hour, and 700 staff at British Aerospace in Plymouth have been given an extra day's paid holiday.

Pagan ceremonies

Dr Jonathan Dowler from the Moorfield Eye Hospital explains the safest way to see the eclipse
Pagans are also preparing for what they say will be a momentous occasion. Authorised rituals will be performed at ancient sites including Boscawen-un, Men an Tol and the Hurlers.

Pagan priestess Sue Ward, who will feature in a BBC documentary called The Dark Side of the Sun on 14 August, said many people would come to the eclipse looking for a spiritual experience.

"For pagan people this has probably the same significance as the millennium to Christians," she said.

Great British weather

But as ever, the British weather threatens to intervene, with the South West - the only part of the country experiencing a total eclipse - the most likely to be shrouded in cloud.

[ image: There was a last-minute dash to the south-west of England to get the best view]
There was a last-minute dash to the south-west of England to get the best view
Weather forecaster Dave Garner predicted there was only a 5-10% chance of actually seeing the eclipse in west Cornwall - where totality will last longest for up to two minutes and six seconds.

"West Cornwall is going to be the worst place to be," said Mr Garner, adding that there was a band of cloud and rain moving in from the Atlantic.

"We are expecting it to cloud over during the morning - and west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly even have a chance of rain at the time of the eclipse."

But Cornwall eclipse organisers are hoping the far west's unpredictable "micro climate" could yet produce clear skies.

Celebrity astronomer Patrick Moore: "Every eclipse is different"
Further east, in Teignmouth and Dartmouth, south Devon - which will also get totality - there may be a chance of seeing something through thinner cloud.

The south east Channel coasts have the best chance of seeing something.

Meteorological Office forecaster Peter Stewart said: "There is a lot of cloud about everywhere this morning and it is going to be a bit hit or miss how much people see, certainly around the time of totality.

"The chances of people in the south west seeing full totality are fairly small, although I wouldn't rule out the prospect there might be some breaks in the cloud."

Last-minute rush

More than a million people were in Cornwall to see the event - a figure which included over 250,000 who had travelled specially to see it in the past few days.

Their numbers swelled further overnight, with thousands more people taking to the roads in a last minute dash for the dark.

AA Roadwatch said 1,800 cars passed junction 25 of the M5 at Exeter heading for Cornwall between 2300 and midnight on Tuesday - the figure on an average week night is 300 cars.

Eclipse expert Dr David Hughes, head of astronomy at Sheffield University, said the arrival of the band of darkness would be a thrilling experience.

"You have to imagine a band 100 kilometres wide rushing towards you at enormous speed," he said.

However, confusion will reign in the animal kingdom, with birds roosting during the "mini night" six hours after dawn, and flowers will close their petals.

Scientists in Cornwall will even be using the brief period of darkness to study the eating habits of cows.

Seaside view

Up to 400,000 people in tens of thousands of boats, are also expected to take to the waters from Cornwall to Hampshire for a maritime view of the event.

Chief coastguard, Richard Day, has more than 600 staff on duty around the coasts of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, as well as six extra helicopters on standby to deal with any emergencies.

He has warned people on clifftops and beaches to keep a close watch on their children during darkness.

The eclipse spectacular ends on the UK mainland when it passes over Torquay, south Devon, a few seconds before 1235.

Once past the Cornish coast, the eclipse will be seen by tens of millions as it races across Europe, Syria, Iran and the Indian sub continent.

Britain's next eclipse will also be seen from west Cornwall - at 5pm on September 23, 2090.

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