Observing the eclipse

ASE members and members of the public observing the solar eclipse outside the Scottish Parliament. (Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

For me,  the trauma of getting to the Scottish Parliament at 7:30 am on a cold Friday morning was offset by the clear sky and bright sunshine.  Armed with my solar specs bought on-line, I hoped for a glance of a crescent sun in someone else’s telescope, and maybe some sight of totality from the Faroe Islands streamed on screens inside for the school parties.  What I found was a group of colleagues from the ASE with kit of various kinds – solar-scopes to white card to colanders – and a growing crowd of public visitors, come perhaps to visit the Parliament, Holyrood Palace or Arthur’s Seat.  All of them became attracted by the sight of the telescopes and stayed for the opportunity to see the eclipse.  Many asked where solar specs could be obtained and were disappointed by absence of sales on site, but various members lent their solar specs to those queueing for the telescopes so they didn’t miss out.

As the formalities indoors drew near, I volunteered to be caretaker for Sean’s sun-screened ‘scope while he did his day job with visitors in the Parliament.  Finding the sun was an issue.  Yes, nothing in the eyepiece and no luck finding the smallest shadow on the ground; and only the direct sun in the lens would get through the safety film that Sean had attached to the front.  Queues were lining up for a sight so I picked up the whole thing and did a little dance until I saw the magic flash of light in the eyepiece.

Trying to find the sun

Andrew trying to find the sun with a heavily filtered telescope! (Photo: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament)

What followed was great fun.  Visitors were directed to the telescopes as they became free, all being as quick as possible but not concealing their pleasure at the sight of the diminishing crescent.  Between guests, I adjusted the tracking of the rapidly-moving image so as not to lose it again!  Of course, in the process I saw the image dozens and dozens of times.  I learned also to lean firmly on the tripod as its legs were all too easily kicked as folk moved around them.  I think that the gasps and exclamations were genuine: it was a fantastic sight to see a magnified shot of something normally so bright that you cannot look at it.  I failed to get a photograph successfully thought the telescope lens but after one girl succeeded with her phone, I encouraged others to try.  Imagine the texts ‘…the eclipse as I saw it in Edinburgh…’

Then cloud threatened to spoil the minutes nearest totality and it got colder, though not really darker, an interesting proof that even part sun is still incredibly bright, but that we need the whole sun shining to heat us!  A real bonus followed with thin cloud just screening the heat and light but giving a clear shape of the crescent sun, one that everyone could see.  There was an audible gasp as hundreds of folk saw the shape getting smaller then slowly expanding again.  This was astronomy in action.

The queues continued until the eclipse was past, and I think that sharing with hundreds of visitors made it all a success, more so than just seeing the eclipse myself.

Oh, and thanks Sean for lending your kit whilst working indoors and missing most of the outdoor excitement…

Andrew Mackie

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.