An eclipse is upon us!

Here we go after 16 years I have another opportunity to see a solar eclipse of the sun. It is going to be a good one and I am almost ready to go. I have just got myself a new telescope, I’ve got an order for a sheet of solar filter in the post, and I have an advanced compact camera ready for the big event. It will be the biggest astronomical event that I will ever see, providing the weather is not reporting big fluffy balls of clouds blocking out this astronomical wonder.

I have bought a very classy classic telescope which is a Sky-Watcher Heritage 114 with a table top go-to mount that allows me track anything in the sky. Thanks to my staff discount at the Science Museum shop I managed to get it at a real bargain. What’s even better is that I now have something portable to take with me rather than that bulky oversized beginner scope I had last year. I am planning on taking this baby out to get the best possible view where I can see the eclipse, on the green adjacent to the Queen’s Theatre. I’ll be lucky if my activities can generate press attention, the whole county will be out to see this. It will be amazing just to see the Grand Geek of Essex do what he does best. Especially as I am a patron of the Queen’s Theatre.

The last time I saw an eclipse was the 11 August 1999 on Tower Bridge. I was with a summer school class observing the eclipse where it was about 70% darkness at 11.03 am. It was the memorable moment of my life and I was waiting one day for the next one to come along anywhere else in the world. I wish I could have travelled to see the 2008 eclipse in India, if only I was working in a field where I could have travelled there that would have been a dream trip. However I did get to see a lunar eclipse in March 2007 at 8.18 pm when the Moon went bright red from the dusk of the Earth’s shadow. I was still missing a telescope back then but I got one eventually a few years later. It was also that same year that I took up an astronomy course at the Open University and started my academic year and from then I was destined to become a scientist. At the moment I am still an amateur scientist with a telescope, a programmable computer, a magazine series on 3D printing, a set of electronics magazines and I’m an ambassador at the Science Museum. That’s a very cool way of life that everyone could relish to have.

Anyone out looking to see the eclipse in Essex and London had better be prepared. The first fun when looking and studying the Sun is to take precaution. You can damage your eyes and sustain results in blindness. Always remember to wear your solar filter glasses at all times. These will allow the best possible view safely and effectively. These glasses have got what looks like tin foil paper, it’s actually a layer of a material called Mylar. It’s a metallic plastic like material that can block out 99.999% of the sun’s light. Removing the corona allows the Sun to appear as a bright yellow circle which also allows you to see the Sunspots on the surface. I’ve seen this myself and it looks magnificent.

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This picture was actually taken through my telescope using a home made filter. It’s an A4 sheet of solar filter paper sandwiched between two rings made of cardboard. To fix it to the scope’s tube I wrapped 2 inch wide strips of cardboard around the tube and then glued the rings onto the cardboard. This is a relatively cheap and cost effective option to study the Sun. The paper itself costs only £20, but there are other filters out there which run into the hundreds of pounds. So for telescope users I would recommend buying some solar filter paper just for this occasion and look into the other filters if you decide to get better at solar astronomy.

Solar eclipses are the best way to bring out the fun in astronomy during daytime. It’s not always something you can do at night. In fact you could hold onto those solar filter glasses and use them at your own leisure when it’s a clear summer’s day. If your lucky you might be able to spot the two planets that are ahead of us into the Sun that is Venus and Mercury. Around Winter you can see Venus just after sunset or before sunrise where it reveals itself to be the brightest object in the night sky. This is due to the planet’s atmosphere being very thick with carbon dioxide gas and sulphuric acid, which traps in a large amount of sunlight in order to make it glow bright yellow. You wouldn’t want to go there for a holiday but it’s a magnificent spectacle.

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