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TORSHAVN, Faeroe Islands – For months, even years, accommodation on the remote Faeroe Islands has been booked out by fans who don't want to miss an almost three-minute-long astronomical sensation. Now they just have to hope the clouds will blow away so they can fully experience Friday's brief total solar eclipse.
Scores of eclipse chasers and scientists have invaded the archipelago armed with telescopes, cameras and glasses for safe direct solar viewing ahead of the big event.
The weather forecast is better more than 2,000 kilometers (1,270 miles) to the northeast, in the Arctic islands of Svalbard, where spectators can hope for a clear day. The full eclipse will only be seen in a narrow path across the northern hemisphere, reaching the Faeroes at 0945 GMT on Friday.
"This is our 10th total eclipse. We love to watch them and being able to look at the corona with your eyes in the middle of the eclipse is really an exciting moment, to experience the diamond rings coming and going," said Les Anderson, a 60-year-old from San Diego, California, in Torshavn, capital of the Faeroes.
The population of the 18 rocky islands between Scotland and Iceland has swelled by approximately 10,000 for a few days from its normal 48,000 souls.
"There has never, never been so many people on the islands before," said Theresa Kreutzmann, head of the tourism office in Torshavn.
The two best places to fully experience the total solar eclipse are the Faeroes, where the moon covers the sun completely for 2 minutes 45 seconds, and Svalbard, more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) north of the Norwegian mainland, where it will be 15 seconds shorter.
A partial solar eclipse can be seen across Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. Britain's Meteorological Office says 95 percent of the sun will be covered in the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetland Islands.
Although Faeroese camping sites have opened ahead of time for those willing to brave nighttime temperatures of around 1.5 degrees Celsius (35 degrees Fahrenheit), authorities on Svalbard have reminded last-minute visitors that bringing a sleeping bag and finding a cozy corner for the night is not an option. The thermometer there hovers around minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit), and safety must come first: Polar bears roam freely and when moving outside settlements, one needs firearms.
On average, three bears are shot in self-defense every year on Svalbard with an estimated polar bears population of 3,000. Visitors have been attacked — on Thursday, a bear attacked a tent in which a tourist was sleeping, and in 2011, a British teenager was fatally mauled by a bear that attacked the tent he was sleeping in.
"We don't have polar bears here," laughed Torstein Christiansen, tourist chief in Torshavn, adding the main problems in the Faeroes are the car traffic and the treacherous and sudden fog that can quickly wrap the islands and its steep cliffs.
Finnur Johansen, 82, is eagerly awaiting the total solar eclipse. He recalls the one in 1954 on the Faroe Islands when the animals were fooled by the sudden darkness.
"I remember the reaction of the birds. They go to sleep. The hen, they go in to hen house, under the perch, and slept there with the head under the wing," Johansen said.
If eclipse-chasers have been preparing for years, local authorities have been doing the same, Christiansen said. Authorities have posted online information to help visitors find accommodation and the best spots to be for the eclipse.
Solar eclipse merchandising — including books and toy puffins in eclipse T-shirts — are on sale, hotel prices have risen and a ferry boat has been moored in Torshavn to house visitors.
AP writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.