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Village Sky At Night with Brian Watkiss

Eclipse excitement

Posted on February 28 2015 at 11:56:23 0 comments

Sun viewer

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

March this year brings one of the most exciting events you could ever witness: a total eclipse of the Sun occurs on Friday the 20th.

Now, I must point out right away that it is not visible from Alvechurch but what we will see is a partial eclipse. In fact it will be a spectacular partial because 87 percent of the Sun’s disc will be obscured.

For those old enough to remember (but still young enough to remember) the eclipse of 1999, that one was similar with an obscuration of 93 percent.
I must also give a warning – DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN! Sorry to shout but it is important; you can seriously damage your eyesight.

To view the Sun at any time other than during a total eclipse you need Solar Viewing Glasses from a reputable source. It is also advisable to check them carefully by holding them up to a light source and looking for pinholes etc before you use them.

Of course, a cheaper and more fun way of viewing the Sun is to make your own optical instrument. Before you start to have visions of grinding lenses and rolling a tube, I’m only thinking of a pinhole projector.

All you need is a square of cardboard with a tiny hole in it; hold it up to the Sun and look at the shadow it casts (AGAIN - DO NOT LOOK THROUGH IT AT THE SUN).

For further refinement, you can cut a slot in your card, tape a small sheet of baking foil over it and make the pinhole in that.

Actually, it doesn’t have to be a pinhole – I got my best results by making it about two millimeters wide. Better yet, set it up in a bedroom window and pull blinds and draw curtains so that the only light enters via your projector and set up a screen (a sheet of white paper) where you get a good enlarged image.

I used special astronomical light-reducing cloths (which my wife insists on calling towels) to good effect.

You should have a practice run a week or so before the 20th, which is actually Spring or Vernal Equinox, so the Sun will rise exactly due east. The eclipse starts at 8.25am which is just over two hours later so you can see that the eclipse happens in the southeast.

This point where the Moon first encroaches is called first contact and where the eclipse ends is fourth contact (2nd and 3rd being the start and end of totality, but we won’t see that).

At 9.30am it reaches its peak, at which time light levels will be reduced but your eyes will adapt so you may not notice. Try leaving a light on and seeing how much brighter it looks at this time. You might notice the temperature drop too.

It all ends at 10.30am, which is rotten timing. I think everyone should be given a day off school, don’t you?

In the evenings, that bright “star” that dominates the southwest sky just after sunset is, of course, Venus – and the full Moon on the 5th is reported to be a “Supermoon”.

Hmm, take a look and see what you think.


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