diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The eclipse-watcher's greatest enemy is cloud. Even though science can predict the precise moment and location of an eclipse several millennia in advance, the weather remains an unpredictable element of sabotage. High cirrus cloud - no problem. Thin altostratus - fine. But lumpen grey stratus, sorry, spectacle denied.

Tuesday morning, and twenty-or-so eclipse-watchers assemble atop Primrose Hill. This is the highest point of land close to Central London with a southeastern view, so it's a good place to be. The time's around eight o'clock, a few minutes before sunrise. Most of the sky is obscured, but miraculously there's a narrow slit of shady light illuminating the horizon. It's not certain, but it looks like the cloud might be thin enough to allow at least some solar light through. Ah no, false alarm. A curtain of grey descends, the imminent sunrise is shrouded, and the moment is lost.

In a city of eight million, I'm distinctly unimpressed by the tiny audience at this prime viewing spot. But the few who've made the effort are here in the hope of seeing something spectacular. Some are optimists, who've heard the weather is supposed to be rubbish but have come up anyway. Some are merely passing through with dogs to walk, and have paused on the summit to see what's going on. Two are professional photographers with giant-lensed cameras, hoping to sell photographs of amber crescents to news-gathering organisations. Others have heard something about an eclipse, maybe on the TV or on the internet somewhere, but haven't quite grasped the scientific details of what's to come. In the absence of any solar activity, it's this latter category who are the most interesting to watch.

» Two parents have brought their young daughters up the hill to see whatever it is they're going to see. They stand at the top of the slope, point towards Canary Wharf and wait. Absolutely nothing happens. This is because there's still one minute to sunrise, but they don't know that so they give up and walk away.
» Another pair of skywatchers give up two minutes later. They've heard the eclipse is supposed to be at sunrise, but haven't grasped the concept that it lasts much longer than that, so they turn to each other disappointed and wander off.
» Four lads in hoodies come and sit on the bench because one of them heard about the eclipse on the radio. They stare at the Post Office Tower, which is in completely the wrong direction, because the unlit horizon's not offering them any clues. They chatter, they smoke, and then they bugger off to the gym.

But there is something exceptional about this morning's sunrise. It hasn't happened. Normally by twenty past eight the sky over London would be brightening fast, even on an overcast day like this. Not today. The streetlamps scattered across the foot of the hill are still burning orange. The sky remains a dim pre-dawn grey. And all because two-thirds of the Sun is missing. More importantly, it's the top half of the Sun that's had the biggest chunk bitten out by the Moon's shadow. The remaining exposed yellow crescent is lower on the horizon, so has yet to shine down on the cloudtops and illuminate London's morning. If you know and understand what's happening, it's oddly eerie. But almost nobody in the capital has spotted that sunrise has been delayed. They probably just think it's still dark, or foggy, or more likely aren't thinking about light levels at all.

The professional photographers remain on the hilltop longer than most, but leave without taking a single frame. Eventually it becomes obvious, even to the most stubbornly optimistic observer, that the cloud blanket won't be clearing any time soon. The eclipse still has another hour to run, but its black shadow is shrinking fast and soon won't be worth seeing even were it visible. Time to head back to normality, after a non-event caused by evil wildcard cloud. To the handful of us who noticed, another magical astronomical phenomenon has been wrecked by meteorology. Spectacle denied.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream