"It is very spectacular to experience," said Pål Brekke, a senior adviser at the Norwegian Space Centre and an adjunct professor at The University Centre in Svalbard. "It's something everyone should experience during their lifetime."
On March 20, starting at 10:11:53 a.m., a shadow will come over Longyearbyen. An hour later there will be complete darkness for nearly two and a half minutes while the moon passes in front of the sun. The show will last a little more than two hours and Svalbard will have a front-row seat. While the rest of Norway will experience up to a 95 percent eclipse, it will be 100 percent in Svalbard.
"In Norway we have had partial eclipses," Brekke said. "They are great to see, but the small difference from a sun that covers 99 percent and 100 percent is so great. A French solar scientist said about the difference that it becomes like a kiss on the cheek compared with a hot night of lovemaking in Paris."
INTERACTIVE MAP: The eclipse flight
Long until next time
He has been contacted by numerous scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency who are asking to be involved in Svalbard by helping with presentations during the eclipse, and therefore snapping up a space in the researchers' hotel next to UNIS.
But Svalbard is mostly full and those who are renting out homes during the days surrounding the eclipse are raking in large sums of money because what will happen March 20 is no everyday event. There are eclipses every year, but not as often over areas where people live. The last total eclipse in Norway was in 1954. In 2008 there was a total eclipse over Kvitøya, north of Svalbard, but there are no known people living there. The next total solar eclipse in Norway will be in 2061, also over Svalbard.
ANIMATION: Follow the path
UNIS has long prepared for the event, and Brekke and his colleagues who teach a spring semester course titled "The Stormy Sun and the Northern Lights" are changing this year's itinerary to build it up around the eclipse. Among those participating is Arne Danielsen, one of the foremost experts in the field. The course, which runs from March 9 to 24, is open to the public.
In addition there will be lectures for Longyearbyen residents about the solar eclipse in advance of the event. The light will be extremely strong and it can cost a person their vision to look directly at the sun without protection. Therefore, 2,000 special pairs of glasses have been ordered that will be given away free to anyone living in Svalbard.
"You must wear eclipse glasses all the time, except when it is total, because then you will see nothing through them," Brekke said. "Then you see the corona – the jet wreath – around the sun."
It is also dangerous to look at the sun with a telephoto lens or telescope during the eclipse unless the lens is equipped with a filter. Those planning to take pictures should place such orders now and become familiar with how to take pictures of the sun in advance.
In Svalbard, it is possible to take pictures of the eclipse with the Northern Lights. However, such instances are rare.
"I am very excited," Brekke said. "Now I have seen this myself and know it's going to be amazing, but I'm most looking forward to seeing this with others. To share this with others."
Clouds can ruin the experience, but Brekke said he is hoping that does't happen when UNIS brings students upwards in Adventdalen, most likely to the old observatory where they will set up tents. From there they will see the sun stand slightly behind Sukkertoppen while Brekke and colleagues explain what is happening.
Except when it gets completely dark. Then the attendees should enjoy it in silence.