Clouds prove a barrier as people gather in Portsmouth for the solar eclipse

Portsmouth University students Rossana Ruggeri, Lucy Newnham and Jimmy Tarr

Portsmouth University students Rossana Ruggeri, Lucy Newnham and Jimmy Tarr

Ben Fogle

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Optimistic stargazers stared to the heavens today as clouds shrouded the partial solar eclipse in Portsmouth.

Despite the overcast weather, people gathered across the area to witness the partial eclipse, which began at around 8.30am and lasted for around 90 minutes.

Hundreds of people gathered in Portsmouth Guildhall Square but most took to watching big screen coverage from elsewhere in the country as heavy cloud hung over the area.

As the skies darkened, the more optimistic continued to look through special protective glasses provided by the University of Portsmouth.

Pupils from Portsmouth schools Charter Academy, Admiral Lord Nelson and Priory School were among the large crowd in the Guildhall Square.

The overcast conditions put a damper on the eagerly-awaited event.

Crowds gather in the Guildhall Square for the partial solar eclipse

Crowds gather in the Guildhall Square for the partial solar eclipse

The University of Portsmouth hosted the event to enable people to view the eclipse safely.

Members of the public joined astronomers from the University’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation in the hope of viewing it safely through solar telescopes and special glasses.

As the eclipse began, Dr Jen Gupta, outreach officer for the University of Portsmouth’s Institute for Cosmology and Gravitation, said: ‘We have been checking about four or five different weather sites, and one we trust quite a lot is saying by 9am it should be 40% cloud.

‘I am keeping my fingers crossed we will see something. It is going on until 10am so it will take time for the moon to come across the sun.

‘As a team we will be a bit disappointed if we don’t see the eclipse.

‘There is not going to be another partial eclipse in Portsmouth until around 2026, so we have got a bit of time to wait.

‘There is always a risk when you do stuff like this in the UK that it is going to be cloudy.’

People gathered in the Guildhall Square said the experience had been enjoyable despite the difficulty in seeing the eclipse.

Roy Guthrie, 49, from Portsmouth, said: ‘I’m a bit disappointed to be perfectly honest. I decided to come here because of all the build-up but looking at the sky it was very cloudy. I enjoyed seeing all the people here though.’

And Liz Parry, 68, of Portsmouth, said: ‘It was really nice to be here. We are so British - we don’t mind if we can see the eclipse or not!

‘The crowds are fantastic - it’s super to see everybody here.’

Despite a Met Office forecast for a cloudy start, it had been expected the eclipse will be visible through breaks in the cloud.

A spokesman for the Met Office said: ‘There is expected to be a lot of cloud around for Friday morning. There may be some clearer spells across central England, Wales and the south west England, with a chance of some breaks in the cloud either side of this.

‘It looks like Southern England, Northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland will have cloud and this will be thicker the further north you go.’

The partial eclipse, which covered the sun by around 85 per cent began at 8.30am and reached its maximum point at 9.28am.

A special edition of BBC Stargazing Live was shown on the big screen in Guildhall Square between 9am and 10am with live coverage of the solar eclipse.

The conditions were a disappointment to astronomers who had hoped people would get a clearer view of one of nature’s great spectacles.

Earlier, Graham Bryant, chairman of the Clanfield-based Hampshire Astronomical Group, had said: ‘It will be one of the best eclipses since the total eclipse of 1999, and one of the best this century so far.

‘The eclipse is going to be a very thin banana-like crescent. It will be many years before we get another decent eclipse in the UK.

‘I think people should try and see it - it is a wonder of nature. You are seeing the celestial mechanics at work.’

Mr Bryant said the eclipse should not be missed, and will leave mankind in a state of awe.

He added: ‘When you see an eclipse it reminds you things are moving out there in the universe, and it is dynamic.’

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