Solar Projection

Solar projection producing an image of the Sun on white paper. (Photo: Duncan Hale-Sutton)

This has probably been the best solar eclipse that I have observed to date. In August 1999 I made the journey down to Cornwall in anticipation of observing the first total eclipse on mainland Britain since 1927, but I was disappointed in having totality obscured by cloud from where I was observing (in the village of Lamorna near Land’s End). Then in 2006 I was on hand to observe a partial solar eclipse at the City Observatory with several other ASE members, including Ken and Graham. We had good weather for this event, but only about 20% of the sun was covered at maximum eclipse. With this eclipse on the 20th March predicting 94% coverage in Edinburgh, it seemed like a great opportunity to see an eclipse in detail.

Sun with sunspot, 19th May 2015

The Sun on the 19th of May 2015.  (Photo: Duncan Hale-Sutton)

Having said that, the weather forecasts had been predicting thick cloud and I was wondering if we would see anything at all! Good omens appeared during the week, though, when we were getting clear skies in the mornings. You have probably noticed this yourself, how often it is clear first thing in Edinburgh but then clouds up later in the day. One of the first things I checked out was whether I would be able to watch the eclipse from the back room of our flat and I was pleased to see that by 8.30am the sun had already cleared the rooftops opposite. It also gave me the opportunity to practise projecting the sun onto paper using a small telescope (see above). You don’t need much to get a decent image and this small scope rigged from the objective of a pair of binoculars sufficed. In fact I got a pretty decent image of the sun on the day before the eclipse (left) in which you can see sunspots on the limbs at the left and far right. I used the macro setting on a small digital camera to photograph the paper.

The beginning of the eclipse

The first chunk of the Sun being obscured by the moon. (Photo: Duncan Hale-Sutton)

You can imagine my surprise on the morning of the eclipse when it dawned fair and bright! I got equipment set up and took an image of the sun prior to the eclipse starting. Then it was all go as the moon took the first bite out of the sun at about 8.30am (left). You can see how far the sunspot at the right has moved since the previous day.

Solar Eclipse Sequence 2015

Image showing the progress of the eclipse, taken at 10 minute intervals throughout – all photos can be enlarged by clicking on them. (Photo: Duncan Hale-Sutton)

I did manage to get a whole sequence of pictures every 10 minutes or so up until the time of maximum eclipse about an hour later (see above). By then we were experiencing intermittent cloud which enabled me to face out of the window to see that happy smile over the rooftops (see below). After that I was more relaxed and taking pictures less frequently. By the end of last contact it was touch and go whether I would see it as cloud was becoming much thicker, but I did, just.

Maximum eclipse through cloud

The sun at maximum, photographed through cloud. (Photo: Duncan Hale-Sutton)

I would say that, even though I thought I was prepared, I still found I was rushing around like a headless chicken and finding out that I had failed to charge the batteries on some of my other cameras. I had hoped to experience how the light levels change outside but I had my back to the window for most of the time. I also made the classic mistake of not realising that the image I was photographing was a mirror image of how you usually see the sun in pictures (because I was photographing the front of the paper and not the back, so to speak). This meant that, although I had put some pictures up early on the ASE Flickr pages, I had to pull them later and resubmit them so that I could get the sun the right way round.

All in all it was a great experience, but maybe next time I will just go outside and enjoy the whole thing without worrying about recording any of it!

Duncan Hale-Sutton

This is one of a series of personal accounts recorded by our members of their experience viewing the partial solar eclipse on the 20th of March 2015.