Spectacular Total Solar Eclipse Kicks Off First Day of Spring (Photos, Video)

This view of the total solar eclipse of March 20, 2015 was captured from space by the European Space Agency's Proba-2 satellite, which was expected to see the eclipse twice as it orbited Earth.
This view of the total solar eclipse of March 20, 2015 was captured from space by the European Space Agency's Proba-2 satellite, which was expected to see the eclipse twice as it orbited Earth. (Image credit: European Space Agency)

A rare total solar eclipse dimmed the skies above a small swath of the top of the world today (March 20), creating an incredible sight on the first day of spring for skywatchers lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see it.

Photos of the total solar eclipse of 2015 show the darkened sun as the moon blocked out its light as seen from the Earth. A European satellite, meanwhile, managed to capture stunning video of the solar eclipse from space

The Friday solar eclipse took place on the March equinox, kicking off the spring season in the Northern Hemisphere and fall in the south. The next March equinox eclipse won't happen for another 19 years, according to EarthSky.org. The eclipse also happened to occur during a supermoon (when the moon is closest to Earth in its orbit), but the moon was in its new phase and a large dark disk during the eclipse. [9 Must-See Skywatching Events of 2015 (Infographic)]

Space fans watch the solar eclipse of March 20, 2015 from the European Space Agency's ESRIN Earth Observation Center in Frascati, Italy near Rome. (Image credit: European Space Agency)

Only people in Denmark's Faroe Islands and Norway's Svalbard Islands the North Atlantic were able to see the total phase of the solar eclipse in person. However, partial phases of the eclipse were potentially visible for millions of stargazers in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa, if weather was favorable. The European Space Agency held several solar eclipse events at its centers across Europe and reported large crowds hoping to catch a glimpse of the celestial event. 

Norway's NRK News broadcast spectacular live views of the sun disappearing behind the moon, followed by a breathtaking view of totality as the sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona, became visible.

The total solar eclipse of 2015 is captured in this spectacular view webcast live by NRK News on March 20 from Norway's Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. (Image credit: NRK News)

Total solar eclipses occur when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, obscuring the star from view and casting a shadow of the moon on parts of the planet's surface. The moon seems to blot out the sun perfectly, a cosmic coincidence.

"This is a tale of Goldilocks told in space, told in the cosmos," Eric Edelman, of the Slooh Community Observatory said during free webcast on the Sloog website today. "Earth is the bed that Goldilocks would sleep in, so to speak. It's so fun to see and it brings home how unique Earth is for having this incredible opportunity to see these total solar eclipses." Slooh streamed live views of the total eclipse online for people unable to see it in person.

Even probes in space got in on the eclipse-watching action. The European Space Agency's (ESA) Proba-2 captured an incredible eclipse video of the moon passing in front of the sun today. An instrument on the spacecraft sees the sun in ultraviolet light, giving researchers a defined view of the sun's surface, according to ESA.

Proba-2 is one of several ESA Proba minisatellites expected to observe the solar eclipse on Friday. The other Proba satellites were aimed down to track the moon's shadow on the Earth's surface.

EUMETSAT's Meteosat-10 caught an incredible view of the shadow of the moon on Earth's Northern Hemisphere during the eclipse.

The moon's shadow on Earth is seen during the total solar eclipse of March 20, 2015 in this amazing view from the Earth-observing satellite Meteosat 10 operated by Eumetsat. (Image credit: Copyright: 2015 EUMETSAT)

It is NEVER a good idea to stare directly at the sun, even during a solar eclipse. You can use special equipment, like eclipse glasses of special binocular or telescope filters to protect your eyes during partial phases of the eclipse. It's also relatively easy to build a pinhole camera or use a household item that will allow you to project an image of the eclipsed sun onto a surface to safely view it.

Total solar eclipses are particularly interesting because stargazers, amateur astronomers and scientists alike can see a view of the sun's atmosphere. Astronomers were able to use eclipses to study the sun before the 20th century, according to NASA.

"Records of ancient solar eclipse observations date back to around 2,000 B.C. Before astronomical photography, astronomers and talented recorders drew solar details of eclipses," NASA officials wrote in a news release. "This gave observers only a few minutes to sketch the sun’s corona, before the total eclipse was over – but the results led to tantalizing glimpses of how variable and dynamic that atmosphere was exciting the curiosity of early scientists."

If you missed today's total solar eclipse, you might have another chance to see one in March 2016 from Borneo, Sumatra, Sulawesi and parts of the Pacific Ocean.

Many people in the United States should have the chance to see another total solar eclipse in about two years, when the shadow of the moon passes over a wide swath of the country. People in the east, middle and the west of the country should be able to see the sun totally blotted out by the moon during that eclipse in August 2017.

The next solar eclipse on Earth will be a partial solar eclipse on Sept. 13, but it will be over Antarctica, making observation a challenge. In the meantime, the moon will put on its own show on April 3 during the first of two total lunar eclipses of 2015. 

Editor's Note: If you SAFELY captured an amazing photo of today's solar eclipse or any other night sky view that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Miriam Kramer
Staff Writer

Miriam Kramer joined Space.com as a Staff Writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also served as Space.com's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. Miriam is currently a space reporter with Axios, writing the Axios Space newsletter. You can follow Miriam on Twitter.