diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 31, 2003


Earlier this morning the sun was eclipsed by the moon. You missed it, didn't you? I know you'll be out there later, soaking up the sun and basking in the 30° heatwave. But, as for the last solar* eclipse* that you* could ever see in* this country*, you slept through it, didn't you? Never mind, you probably missed nothing.

Eclipses are all about shadows. Over the past couple of hours the moon's shadow has swept over the North Atlantic from Scotland to Greenland. Skywatchers in favoured locations will have seen a 'ring of fire', created because the moon is slightly too far away in its orbit to completely obscure the sun. However, the moon wasn't the only thing obscuring the sun this morning...

I got up ridiculously early to go out and watch the eclipse. This was only ever going to be partial in London, but I reckoned 69%-obscured would be well worth seeing anyway. I headed out to the Greenway, a raised footpath through East London, to try to get a good view. However, the first part of the eclipse happened before dawn, meaning that the sun was obscured by the horizon and therefore invisible. Streaks of sunlight shone up into the dawn sky, but of the sun itself there was no sign. Sunrise came at 4:51, at which point the sun rose majestically above the horizon, with a huge chunk bitten out of its left hand side. However, it's nigh impossible to get a clear view of the horizon in central London, so this early part of the spectacle was obscured by houses, factories and tower blocks, and I saw none of it. The sky above me slowly brightened, blue and cloudless. A glorious sunny day was in prospect. The eclipsed sun rose slowly higher in the sky. However, the entire eastern horizon was obscured by fluffy grey cloud, so I saw nothing. It was all sadly reminiscent of the total solar eclipse four years ago in Cornwall - another solar spectacle blotted out by the weather.

partial eclipseFinally, with just twenty minutes of the partial eclipse remaining, I caught sight of a deep red crescent through a gap in the clouds. At last. Less than half of the sun's disc was still eclipsed by this time, but the sight was pretty impressive, even if the photograph I managed to take wasn't. Ten seconds later the clouds were back in the way again and the eclipse continued unseen. Slowly the sun edged out of the moon's shadow, until just a tiny sliver was missing from the left hand side. At 5:30, just as the eclipse ended, the sun finally rose up above cloud level, ready to shine down for the rest of the day. Too late, it was all over. All over until 2090.

It's going to be a fantastic summer's day today. The sun will be beating down on the UK, 100% visible. But I saw it earlier, when it wasn't all there. And you didn't.

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