Die-hard eclipse junkies descended on the Faroe Islands, a Danish autonomous territory, and Norway's Arctic Svalbard archipelago to catch a glimpse of a total solar eclipse - with rare but spectacular views expected.

A partial eclipse of varying degrees was visible across most of Europe, northern Africa, central Asia and the Middle East.

The moon's shadow alighted on Earth's surface at 0741 GMT in the eastern central Atlantic, according to Britain's Nautical Almanac Office.

The eclipse was also observed for less than three minutes of daytime darkness, a phenomenon that has fascinated mankind since the beginning of time.

More than 8,000 visitors thronged the Faroes, where the total eclipse began at 9:41am (0941 GMT), and some 1,500 to 2,000 were expected in Svalbard, where the eclipse started at 11:11 am (1011 GMT).

"There are a lot of eclipse chasers from all over the place," Torstein Christiansen from the Faroese tourist office told the AFP news agency.

"The majority are from Europe but there are also countries which are not usually on our list, like Australia, New Zealand, the [United] States, Africa," he said.

A group of 50 Danes had bought tickets aboard a Boeing 737 chartered by a science magazine to watch the event from the skies above the Faroe Islands.

In Svalbard, which is just emerging from four months of winter darkness, hotels were fully-booked for years ahead of the event, the 10th solar eclipse of the 21st century.

Freezing temperatures 

In the Arctic archipelago, where everything is extreme, visitors had to contend with temperatures as low as -20 Celsius at this time of year.

Total eclipses occur when the moon sneaks between Earth and the Sun, and the three bodies align precisely.

The moon as seen from Earth is just broad enough to cover the solar face, creating a breath-taking silver halo in an indigo sky pocked by daytime stars.

Source: AFP