Could Health Alert Smog Affect Solar Eclipse Friday?

Britain has been placed on high alert as a toxic, polluted smog has passed over from France and has settled all over the country for a couple of days. The smog could potentially ruin a front row seat to the solar eclipse on Friday. It was spotted late Wednesday and will remain for the whole of Thursday, hopefully dissipating by Friday morning due to the arrival of a new weather front. The clouds that will remain may block the view of the solar eclipse.

A smog is formed when air pollution levels are quite high and there is very little wind. The combination of particles and ground level ozone stacks up to create a yellow/black fog. The fog is quite dense and heavy, so it obscures view and causes health problems. The particles are made up of dust, soot, diesel fumes or aerosols. The pollution levels have already been quite high this year and are expected to reach dangerous levels.

The worst affected places will be Doncaster and the surrounding areas which were issued a Level 9 health warning. A Level 6 health warning was issued for Nottingham, Loughborough, South-West to South Wales, Bristol, Devon, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Birmingham, Coventry and Leicester. A Level 4 health warning has been issued for Northern Ireland and mid-Wales, London and most of the South East of England, East Anglia, East Midlands, the North and North East, Northumberland & mid-Lothian in Scotland.

Experts say that the smog originated from over the Continent, where milder weather let traffic pollution build up and it was blown over to the UK. The UK is expected to have the smog for a few days because, as The Weather Network’s Chris Burton summarised, “High pressure is sat right on top of the UK, preventing pollution from dispersing and keeping it trapped at the surface.” Pollution that covered Paris has been blown across the channel and the lack of winds has ensured a lengthy stay in the UK.

The smog presents health and environmental problems, it affects everyone because when you breathe in the smog you are breathing in harmful substances as well. The particles in the air can cause problems in your lungs such as inflamed airways. People with asthma and heart or lung conditions are more receptive and sensitive to the pollution. Short term effects can include illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis while long term exposure to air pollution can lead to heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory diseases such as emphysema. Children and the elderly are the most at risk and Kay Boycott, the Chief Executive of Asthma UK said “Two thirds of people with asthma find that air pollution makes their asthma worse, putting them at an increased risk of a potentially fatal asthma attack.”

He carries on to say how “When air pollution is high, it’s vital people with respiratory conditions including asthma check air pollution forecasts, carry their reliever inhaler with them at all times, and ensure that they are taking preventer inhaler every day because this will help build resilience to asthma triggers like air pollution.” For those affected, air pollution does reduce life expectancy by an average of 11 years. It is responsible for 5% of all annual UK deaths. 

Cyclists in London struggle with low to almost no visibility and in the areas most affected, wear masks and sunglasses to protect their eyes despite the depressing lack of sunshine.
Last year, there was a similar rise in pollution around spring. The emergency services reported a surge in call-outs to patients with breathing problems. 1.6 million people (according to Asthma UK) suffered from an asthma attack and every year it is estimated that 29,000 premature deaths are caused by bad air quality.

Total Solar Eclipse

The total solar eclipse is expected on Friday morning from 8 am to 11 am, with the best time to see a total solar eclipse predicted at 9:35 am. The eclipse is believed to be about 98% on the Isle of Lewis and 97% in Shetland. It will begin in the south-west of the UK before moving steadily north and east.

A solar eclipse is when the moon covers the Sun and therefore blocks out its light. It is only possible when the moon moves directly between the Sun and the Earth, allowing the shadows to fall upon the Earth’s surface. Because the alignment doesn’t necessarily produce a total eclipse, it is more common to have a partial eclipse. Full eclipses happen 2.4 times a year on average.

This eclipse is especially anticipated because it is the biggest total eclipse since 1999. It is most likely to plunge the UK into darkness with Scotland seeing about 94% of the sun being blocked out. Previous significant eclipses visible from the UK were in 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2011 but they were only partial. The eclipse will be most visible from Europe, North Africa, Greenland and North Russia.

The solar eclipse does pose a problem to energy suppliers; the solar panels will not collect power and at that time of day about 1,000MW (megawatts) of power could be generated from solar (1,000MW is equal to 1GW). This number is expected to fall by around 850MW says the National Grid. The website http://www.timeanddate.com produced these statistics:

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This eclipse is especially anticipated because it is the biggest total eclipse since 1999. It is most likely to plunge the UK into darkness with Scotland seeing about 94% of the sun being blocked out. Previous significant eclipses visible from the UK were in 2003, 2006, 2008 and 2011 but they were only partial. The eclipse will be most visible from Europe, North Africa, Greenland and North Russia.

The solar eclipse does pose a problem to energy suppliers; the solar panels will not collect power and at that time of day about 1,000MW (megawatts) of power could be generated from solar (1,000MW is equal to 1GW). This number is expected to fall by around 850MW says the National Grid. The website http://www.timeanddate.com produced these statistics:


Will the smog affect the viewing of the eclipse?

There is some hope to see this rare occurrence as “smog levels in the UK should have fallen enough by Friday morning to allow those affected to see the partial  eclipse of the sun – the first in 15 years,” Sky News reports. Otherwise, for most parts of the UK, the eclipse will not be seen. Eager astronomers will have to wait until nearer the time to find out where patches of clear skies can be found. The smog itself won’t be the main factor that obscures the skies on Friday but the clouds that form in the aftermath will be. However, the event will be documented and filmed in other places around the world, especially in the Artic where the eclipse is expected to be around 97%. So although some may not see the event first-hand, we will all be able to review the footage.