Eclipses and Auroras

You’re going to be disappointed. This is possibly the dullest astronomical post you’ll ever read, if you’re rash enough to read on in the hope that I’m joking.

Well, just so that it isn’t a complete waste of your time, it started with a post that just crossed my radar on the Cornish Story web site. Cornwall and the Scillies were the part of Britain best-placed to see the total eclipse of 1999, and while many were disappointed that Cornish mizzle obscured the spectacle, Alan Murton and his family were luckier than most and got a pretty good view from the cliffs at Perranporth, as described in his article Whose Eclipse?

In his postscript, he says: “Can you remember the full eclipse of the sun?  I do because I was among the lucky ones who enjoyed the sight of the clouds parting a few minutes before totality.”

On another day, I probably wouldn’t have commented on that, but as it happens I’m sitting in my pyjamas with my brain working at half-speed due to a (hopefully temporary) condition that’s too dull and (more importantly) too embarrassing to describe further, and this is about the most useful bit of writing I’m capable of right now.

So yes, I remember it. Mostly because I didn’t see it. I wasn’t in Cornwall, for a start, and hadn’t been for many years (holidaying as a child). I was in London, working for Imperial Cancer Research Fund, which later became Cancer Research UK. And I was probably the only person in the building, everyone else having rushed out to Lincoln’s Inn Fields to see whatever the weather permitted of the eclipse. Why? I was on the phone to some other luckless, totality-deprived individual, trying to get a handle on his or her IT-related problem. No, of course I don’t remember what the problem was: if it was a helpdesk day, it could have been anything. So my view of the eclipse was basically that of darkness suddenly descending on Kingsway: apart from the speed of the descent, it looked much like any winters evening looked from my office, except that I didn’t have to wait for dawn next day to see daylight again. My daughter, who was with her mother  in Austria, did rather better.

Ah, you may say, but you’re in Cornwall now, so you must have seen the Aurora Borealis? Well, I did go out at a ridiculous hour of the morning in the hope of seeing it, but I didn’t see the amazing displays people in Cornwall had actually seen the night before. Because it was an amazingly clear night, I did take some photographs anyway, and because the phone needed exposures of several seconds, I did get to see some effects I hadn’t seen with the naked eye: a mysterious green aura over the nearest large town, and a halo round the moon. Here they are, but they’re hardly prizewinning photos.

Well, I promised you disappointment, and I always keep my promises. I can only say that some of the other photos were even duller. Perhaps I should have tried for a video or two, since I couldn’t realistically do time-elapsed stills.

David Harley