diamond geezer

 Friday, March 20, 2015

I've long been a keen eclipse-chaser, just not a very good one.

Thursday 25th February 1971 [10.39am] (58%): The first big solar eclipse I remember took place during morning break while I was at infant school. Our headteacher came into class and led us all out to the front playground when the sun had just gone behind a cloud, and we all looked up and went woo. If a teacher tried that today, eyes unprotected, they'd probably lose their job. But as far as I know everyone in my class can still see, and I think this collective viewing was a formative experience.

Sunday 11th May 1975 [7.19am] (44%): Too early on a Sunday morning, I don't remember this.
Thursday 29th April 1976 [11.13am] (29%): Junior school, just after break, I don't remember this either.

Tuesday 20th July 1982 [8.38pm] (12%): & Wednesday 15th December 1982 [8.25am] (24%) Neither of these get a mention in my diary. I guess it must have been cloudy.

Wednesday 30th May 1984 [7.08pm] (37%): By this time I was at university, and this was the evening where some other first years and I went looking at flats we might live in the following year. Thankfully one of my fellow students was a physicist, and provided a black slide and UV filter for us to use as we drove around. We watched the moon creep up the left hand side of the sun, that is when we weren't dismissing three of our targets as wholly unsuitable. But the fourth, which we exited as partiality ended, was the five-bedroomer on the Cowley Road where we ended up a few months later.

Tuesday 10th May 1994 [7.36pm] (42%): By now I had my own home, which shows just how far life moves on between eclipses. This one was in the evening, after work, but the sky was hazy making viewing difficult. I didn't have an eye protection either, hence I was trying to catch the eclipse out of the corner of my eye and I only sort of saw it. Woefully inadequate.

Saturday 12th October 1996 [3.19pm] (51%): Best eclipse since 1961 this one. And a direct hit on the weekend, which always aids visibility, assuming the weather plays ball. In this case it had been sunny at lunchtime but then clouded over, and all looked lost until shortly before maximum eclipse. I could see half the sun from my kitchen window through some altocumulus, the moon biting in from top right leaving two sharp horns. But it never got dim, so if you hadn't known it was happening you'd never have noticed.

Wednesday 11th August 1999 [11.12am] (100%): Yay, the only total solar eclipse in the UK in my lifetime, and I'd been able to book an exorbitantly priced bed in Cornwall to see it. Or so I hoped. Except as we all remember it was cloudy, almost completely obscuring the sky along the whole British path of totality. As the cloud thickened this left the hotel television as the only way to view what was happening, which was scant reward. Our hotelier opened the champagne too early, and then very suddenly it went almost dark for 100 seconds. Others around me were quite impressed by this, but I was cursing, fully aware of how fantastic a sight had just passed unseen above the cloud. "I told you it'd be rubbish," said The Ex as light levels rose swiftly afterwards. Back at 30% the clouds parted slightly, to reveal nothing overly special, then rolled back over again. The only total eclipse we saw that day was in The Mummy at the Plymouth Odeon, later in the evening. "It was amazing," said friends who'd seen 97% obscured back in London. But not as amazing as what I hadn't seen. One day, one day.

Saturday 31st May 2003 [4.58am] (69%): More than two thirds of the sun was obscured, so why don't you remember this one? The time is a clue, with the event taking place at dawn and thus ridiculously low in the sky. I wandered up to the Greenway at stupid o'clock to discover my nemesis, clouds, obscuring what little the Newham skyline had not. For ten seconds a red crescent hovered low above Plaistow, scant reward for so early a start. But by the time the disc rose above the cloud layer, heralding a gloriously sunny day, the eclipse was finished.

Monday 3rd October 2005 [10.02am] (57%): This partial eclipse was yet another disappointment. There had been sunshine at dawn, but skies in central London were fully overcast by the time the eclipse began. Even though more than half the sun was suddenly absent, it was impossible to distinguish this extra-special event from any normal grey day in the capital. Mockingly the sun shone back in through my office window with less than ten minutes of the eclipse remaining, just in time for me to observe the tiniest weeniest sliver of the moon's shadow blocking out the lower edge of the solar disc.

Wednesday 29th March 2006 [11.33am] (17%): A busy day at work, this one, hence no chance to get away to see the minor spectacle, other than a brief trip to the teapoint window to eye up the small nibble bottom left.

Friday 1st August 2008 [10.18am] (12%): I took my solar specs to work, and managed to interest other members of the team enough to take a look out of the window. They were surprised by the clarity of the bite, it being pretty much imperceptible without eyewear enhancement. Everyone I showed is now either reorganised, retired or redundant. I fear that the dull bunch I get to sit near these days will have the blinds down this morning, the philistines.

Tuesday 4th January 2011 [8.11am] (68%): This would have been damned impressive, but for two crucial things. Firstly this was early January, around the time of the latest sunrise of the year, hence all that happened at dawn is that the darkened top of the sun didn't appear above the horizon. Secondly this was early January, and the entire morning was willfully woefully cloudy. I stood on top of Primrose Hill to attempt to see this one, along with a motley crew of optimists and random bystanders. But alas, yet again, spectacle denied.

Friday 20th March 2015 [9.31am] (87%): And so to today, the best eclipse since 1999, and the best before 2026. I've taken the day off to avoid being trapped with no view in the office, and to give me the best chance of ending up somewhere sunny during the crucial two hour slot. That might be London, where various astronomical societies are setting up observation equipment around the capital (Greenwich, Regents Park, Horsenden Hill). Alternatively with the forecast for the southeast looking familiarly overcast, I've bought a train ticket to somewhere further north which might (or might not be better). Before breakfast I have to decide whether to stay or go, based on the most up-to-date cloud forecast available. I'll be right pissed off if I escape the capital only to discover, as before, that everyone here saw more than me. But when you're an eclipse chaser you've got to give it a go when you can. A dozen chances down, I don't have too many more to go.

The dg preview of today's partial solar eclipse


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