The Partial Solar Eclipse Friday 20 March 2015 by Rob Slack

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Uffington White Horse Car Park


Credit: Rob Slack

Friday the 20th of March, the day of the best partial eclipse in the UK for years, started gloomy and dull, with little prospect of seeing anything.

Pete Struve and Rob Slack formed the head of a small party heading for Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, about half hours drive from Swindon. Rob had used this location before, to view the transit of Venus back in 2012. So for the eclipse, it seemed to hold some significance.

As we arrived at the lower car park at Uffington White Horse, we were greeted by some slightly worse for the ware, revellers, presumably awaiting the Spring Equinox. As we were about to set up over £1000 worth of kit, we did not want to take the chance of any of it being damaged by some inebriated fool! So we drove on up the road to the upper car park, just under the white horse.

The weather was cold and windy and mist seem to hang down in the valley. We were not too optimistic about seeing the Sun, let alone witnessing the eclipse. Undaunted we set up Rob's telescope, solar filter and cameras and waited for the clouds to hopefully clear.

It was about then we were joined by some fellow members, including John and Malcolm and a new member, Graham, along with his daughter and wife. Graham had tried to buy some eclipse glasses, but was unable to, since they were all sold out. Not to worry, Rob and Pete had come equipped with various viewing aids and Rob's eight inch Helios was trained on the eclipse, fitted with the same home made solar filter Rob had used in 1999!

Our persistence and patience was about to be well rewarded. For not more than five minutes before first contact was due to take place, the clouds thinned and the Sun shone through. Rob worked frantically to get the scope onto the Sun. This proved quite difficult, for without much sunlight to cast shadows, there was nothing for Rob to cue from to line the scope up on. But eventually the scope was lined up and the motor drive engaged.

The eight inch supplied us with some breath taking views as the Sun was slowly devoured by the progressing Moon. We all took it in turns to view the eclipse through the scope and people out walking their dogs even stopped for a dose of the WOW factor at the eyepiece!

We also had at hand some solar filters, for cameras, eclipse glasses and some solar filter film.

A Thermos of hot coffee and some biscuits were distributed, an early elevenses!

Rob took some photos with his digital camera and fitted his planetary imager to the scope for some close up views of the maximum eclipse. Sadly Rob could not use the imager to view the whole Sun, as he forgot the focal reducer. But these narrow field images served to show the valleys and mountains on the Moon very well. It is this lunar topography with results in the Baileys Beads effect seen at totality.

By the time the eclipse had reached maximum, the car park was overflowing. Several other eclipse fanatics had arrived, armed with cameras and long lenses, fitted with solar filters. It was great to wonder round and see how they were doing. Equally they were keen to get a view of the eclipse through the scope. Malcolm demonstrated the low tech approach with his pin hole camera - Fox Talbot would have been proud!

We all remarked on how dark the landscape seemed to be and as we looked down into the valley, it almost seemed like a column of darkness extended into the distance. Even though this was not a total eclipse, the sky larks seemed to go quiet and return to their nests on the ground. Even the buzzards seemed to be taking a break from hanging on the thermals.

As the eclipse progressed on past maximum, the sky began to lighten and the warmth of the sunshine returned. The sky larks again stated to sing, high above us.

By 11am the eclipse was over. The Sun was now shinning brightly and the warmth was welcome.

As we readied ourselves to pack everything away we were approached by the National Trust Warden. He took our photographs for the NT Facebook page, famous at last!!

Considering how glooming our prospects of seeing the eclipse seemed to be, at the outset, the views we finally ended up with were GREAT!! In fact during the whole duration of the eclipse, we did not have any part of our view obscured by cloud, how lucky was that! What a memorable day.

Now I am ( Rob ) planning for the 2017 total eclipse in the USA. I fear that will be rather more expensive that the half hour trip to Uffington!

Credit: Rob Slack
Credit: Rob Slack
Credit: Rob Slack