Thursday, August 14, 2008

Partial Eclipse - 1st August 2008

I completely forgot about the (partial from the UK) eclipse this year, so I was not prepared at all for the occasion. This, however, turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the results were totally unexpected!

Whilst getting ready to go to a wedding, the best I could do was dash outside when it looked sunny and snap a couple of pictures on the most insensitive setting my 10D could muster - not something usually done in this hobby! - but even that was not going to be good enough for direct solar imaging without any filtering.

Now, I must just say that direct solar observing should not be undertaken through any optics directly (including just your eyes) . The way I got around this was to pre-focus on some distant woodlands, lock down into manual focus mode, and use projection to make sure I had the sun in the field of view. When the clouds started to roll over (and there were a lot of them that day!) I just snapped away in an attempt to catch just a few frames of the New Moon sliding across the face of the disc.

This became addictive - popping outside when I should be loading up the car to get to a wedding 100 miles away - and I knew I was going to get myself into trouble :) But, it was worth the effort, even if glimpses of the sun were fleeting and I did not directly observe the disc. It reminded me of Cornwall back in '99 and the total solar eclipse. My father and I went to the Headland Hotel on Fistral Beach in Newquay with his old home-made refractor to project the solar disc onto a small piece of card we took with us. It was cloudy (and rainy) for most of the time, but we caught glimpses of the solar disc being slowly "eaten" by the Moon. Just seconds before totality came, and the darkness overhead enveloped the thousands of people along the beach, the clouds parted for us to witness totality in all its splendour. I can vividly remember seeing deep red flares around the edge of the occluding Moon through the telescope, and the myriad of flashbulbs going off around the bay like it was some sort of rock concert - complete with cheering, shouting, and hollering. It turned out we were extremely lucky that day, pretty much everywhere else in the far south west did not see that spectacle. We were honoured.

An interesting part of these images to note about these images is how the clouds interacted with the sunlight. With such short exposures, the refraction of the sunlight through the clouds could be captured as a mini halo around the sun. When cropped carefully, you can see the similarity between the clouds cradling the solar disc and, on a far greater scale, the Great Orion Nebula cradling stars in its stellar nursery. I'm always in awe at how nature seems to repeat itself over such vastly differing scales.

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