Orwell Astronomical Society (Ipswich)
Solar Annular Eclipse, 31 May 2003
The solar eclipse of 31 May 2003 was partial over much of Europe, with only northern territories such as Iceland, northern Scotland and parts of Norway experiencing an annular eclipse. Eclipse reports from members of OASI are below.
Having been unable to sleep well, I arrived at Whitby West Cliff near the Whalebones and the Cook Monument at about 02:45 UT. (The Cook Monument marks the departure of Captain Cook from Whitby for Polynesia to view the transit of Venus on 03 June 1769.) Several people were already there and setting up equipment in the pre-dawn darkness, while others were arriving. I picked a spot on a grassy hillock with the Abbey, of Dracula fame, visible in silhouette on the skyline on the clifftop at the other side of the bay.
By 03:15 UT people were arriving at the site thick and fast to see the sunrise, like some pagan ritual. There was a mix of general public and amateur astronomers like myself. Members of Whitby Astronomy Club had set up posters and brought a few instruments, including a 250 mm Dobsonian, for public viewing. They circulated among the crowd, advising on the use of solar filters and so on - very responsible!
As time drew closer to sunrise, at 03:40 UT, still more people arrived. By sunrise I estimated that I could see about 100 people in my immediate vicinity. One unfortunate visitor from Scotland was in desperation asking anybody for a spare film for his camera. A little group of observers next to me had about four or five cameras set up.
I had brought my Meade ETX70 with screw-fit solar filter and a 200 mm zoom lens with Baader filter for my camera. However the Baader filter was not secure so I quickly gave up thoughts of using the zoom lens and concentrated instead on the ETX70. As the eclipsed Sun became visible I was so busy looking at it that I forgot to take notes of details such as times and shutter speeds, etc. I had been unsure how the solar filter would work under low light - in fact it was safe to view without a filter at sunrise and this provided the best view of the early stages of the eclipse. Unfortunately, the camera would not focus properly without the solar filter so I had to preset it to approximately the correct focus. From about 10 minutes after sunrise I took photographs with either the ETX70 / Nikon combination or with a normal APS camera. A selection of my photographs is below.
I observed the eclipse from Felixstowe and took photographs using a 35 mm camera fitted with telephoto lens. A selection of my photographs is below.
I went to Felixstowe to see the partially eclipsed Sun rise out of the sea. The sea horizon was invisible - the first half degree or so was lost to murk, so I could not attempt any "crescent rising out of the sea" shots. I was able to take my first picture of the Sun, partially eclipsed, at 3:55 UT and from then on was able to witness the event uninterrupted. I assembled the following montage of images taken using a 1000mm f/10 lens.
The first interesting eclipse in the UK for many years prompted my partner and I to pay a visit to the Orkney Islands towards the end of May 2003. When planning the trip a year or so previously, we had identified Wideford Hill, 225 m high and just outside Kirkwall, the chief town of the island, as the best location from which to observe. We therefore intended to drive, very early on the morning of 31 May, up the hill to view the eclipse. After reconnoitering the site following our arrival on the island we thought yes, this will do nicely!
As is becoming a (pleasant) habit, we met with Mike Harlow and Sue Brown in our hotel bar a few days before the eclipse. The main topic of conversation was where to go for the best observing opportunity.
The population of Orkney was beginning to warm to the eclipse - the tourist information office obtained a supply of 1999 Cornwall eclipse viewers! But wait - what's this advert in the local rag? Talks at Deerness village hall, in the extreme east of the island, on the evening of 30 May, including Heather Couper and Nigel Henbest among the speakers. The talks were to be followed by an eclipse party with (of course!) an all-night liquor license and the eclipse itself at sunrise, overlooking the wild North Sea, accompanied by a lone piper.
Come the eve of the eclipse the clouds rolled in, and owing to various episodes of apathy and illness, Sue and I left our respective partners behind and drove to Deerness. Francisco Diego gave an excellent overview talk on eclipses, followed by Heather and Nigel promoting their new book Mars . It detailed how NASA discovered life on the planet 20 years ago and covered it up. To be fair, their talk must have been interesting because I bought a copy of the book on the strength of it!
3.00am on 31 May: time to depart for the Wideford Hill! The totally overcast sky did not bode well but, when we couldn't even see the top of the hill through thick fog, we experienced a real depression! So, on the spur of the moment we executed a swift about-turn and went to join the Deerness eclipse party at the other end of the island. After driving through several lumpy fields following folk who also didn't know where they were going, we finally arrived. It would have been ideal if it hadn't been for the stubborn clouds. The eclipse came and went to the doleful strains of the lone piper and the chink of whisky glasses being drained by the locals, but we saw nothing of the Sun. At least the BBQ and bar were doing great business. I don't know where Sue and Mike ended up but, given the weather, I doubt that they fared any better than we.
This was our first failure in five eclipse trips. But at least we hadn't travelled too far. Where next - Antarctica in the autumn? Rather too expensive I fear...!
Heather Couper, Nigel Henbest, "Mars: the Inside Story of the Red Planet", Headline Book Publishing, 2001.
See Fred Espenak's eclipse web site eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html/p>