Eclipse chasing in the Faroe Islands – 20 March 2015

Totality first processTotality, and the Sun’s glowing corona, from near the town of Runavik in the Faroe Islands. Credit: Will Gater

Last week I was the guest astronomer on an Omega Holidays trip to the Faroe Islands for the total solar eclipse of 20th March. I’ll try to post a full report soon, but in the meantime here are a few pictures from what was an incredible, and at times nerve-wracking, day chasing the shadow of the Moon.

IMG_1242 copyOur flight left Stansted airport at just after 3:15am on the Friday morning. Note the astronomical airline name!

IMG_1249 copyWe arrived in the Faroe Islands at 5:30am & were greeted with thick cloud, mist & drizzle.

IMG_0410edited_webAs our convoy of coaches drove to our observing site, a spectacular peninsula near the town of Runavik looking out over the Atlantic, we could see small breaks in the clouds.

IMG_0414_edited_webThe wind & rain continued in the run up to the start of the eclipse. We watched as a cruise ship offshore valiantly chased the gaps.

IMG_0406_edited_webA panorama looking south from our observing site. The capital, Tórshavn, is on the right. Click to enlarge!

IMG_1282 copyMy eclipse photography kit. The exposed location made for an incredible view but meant photography was a challenge to say the least! My rucksack is attached to the tripod with a karabiner in an effort to reduce wind vibration.

_MG_0419_DxOMy first photo of the partial phase of the eclipse, taken with a white-light solar filter barely a few minutes after first contact. Credit: Will Gater

_MG_0450_DxODuring the first partial phase of the eclipse the Sun made only a few brief appearances. Credit: Will Gater

_MG_0474_DxO_editedAround a minute before totality the clouds broke and the mistiness of the sky seemed to dissolve away. Darkness enveloped us and the corona burst through a thin veil of cloud to huge cheers. Credit: Will Gater

_MG_0481_DxOAs totality progressed a slightly clearer cloud gap appeared revealing the full extent of the streamers within the corona as well as some beautiful, ruby-red prominences. Credit: Will Gater

moon shadow animThis short animation, taken with a GoPro Hero 2, shows the Moon’s shadow racing over our observing site as well as part of the famous 360-degree sunset. Credit: Will Gater

The video below shows the above but in much higher quality and at a slower speed. It compresses about nine minutes’ of time into one minute. Select ‘720pHD’ for best playback.

Solar eclipse montage20032015From the end of totality to the end of the second partial phase (4th contact) we had a mix of beautiful, blue sky and fluffy, broken cloud. This sequence shows the Moon slipping off the solar disc. Credit: Will Gater

IMG_0537webOccasional, heavy rain showers swept across the islands creating stunning rainbows. Credit: Will Gater

After the eclipse we went on a 3-hour sightseeing tour around the islands by coach before heading to Tórshavn for a few hours. Then it was back to the airport to head home.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 13.33.01 copyThe magnificent colours of the sunset as we flew home from the Faroes.

_MG_0580A coda to an exciting 48 hours of eclipse chasing: this was the view that greeted me on my return home to Somerset, the Moon just a day old. Credit: Will Gater

Warning: observing the Sun can be extremely dangerous. Never stare at the Sun with the naked eye and never observe or photograph the Sun using an unfiltered telescope, camera lens, binoculars, camera viewfinder etc. Doing so risks serious damage to your eyes and/or equipment. The only safe way to observe the Sun is with a specialist, certified solar filter, following the instructions of the manufacturer precisely.

An enduring eclipse

Ten years ago tomorrow, on the morning of August 11th 1999, I had butterflies in my stomach and tingles running down my spine. I was a 13 year old school kid obsessed with astronomy and that morning the south west of the UK (where I lived) was going to be plunged into darkness during a total solar eclipse. The forecast wasn’t good and as morning broke the clouds above south Devon seemed impenetrable. We didn’t give up hope though and early in the morning my whole family, grandparents too, travelled to my school in Torquay where we had planned to observe the eclipse from. Our school was lucky enough to be equipped with a decent observatory where many astronomers had gathered; as we drove up to the observing site (the school playing fields around the observatory) throngs of tents and telescopes greeted us.

For most of the morning I fiddled with a basic solar projector setup to safely observe the partial phases of the eclipse. It never really ‘saw’ the Sun though. The few glimpses we had, to tell us the eclipse was progressing, came when the clouds momentarily broke, revealing a thin, ever diminishing, crescent. They were brief but exciting peeks at the drama unfolding above, which was revealed in full thanks to a television propped up outside the observatory, showing footage from an airplane above the clouds. As totality washed over us the clouds above us went dark, the temperature fell and for a brief moment we all enjoyed the spectacle of being in the shadow of the Moon. Around the horizon the sky was bright and, as soon as it had come, totality passed. And that was that.

I have many memories of that amazing morning, from the excited build up to the subdued darkness of the obscured total phase. Despite not seeing the Sun’s corona or any of the incredible phenomena associated with totality I have no strong memory of being utterly disappointed. In fact today when I think back about it, what we experienced that day was one of the most incredible & exciting things I’ve ever seen. The webpage from 1999 of my, then, local astronomical society is still up and is a nice record of the eclipse from our observing site. I just hope I can hold on long enough to see the next total solar eclipse from the UK mainland!

Solar eclipse report

I managed to see most of the partial eclipse this morning from Bristol. A window of broken cloud opened up about 15 minutes after the first contact and stayed until pretty much the very end, so I’m happy. It was raining about 10 minutes before the eclipse was about to start, but thankfully that blew over. Above (as well as here and here) are some pictures that I grabbed during the eclipse.