Capturing the partial solar eclipse of June 2021

I live in the UK and I’m an amateur astronomer, I’m very familiar with the vagaries of the weather and how a run of seemingly perfect days (nights) before an astronomical event will come to a crashing halt with a sky of clouds scant hours before the event starts.

With this in mind, and after a run of days with perfect blues skies, I’d decided to not make a great effort to view the eclipse; instead I just took a small, cheap spotting ‘scope to work with the intention of using it to project an image of the sun if the sun ever became visible.

Ten minutes before maximum eclipse there was no sun to be seen, not even a dim disc though the clouds, just a diffuse glow. Undaunted, I set the telescope up on a crap tripod I had laying around the lab and got it roughly pointed at the sun. I improvised a sunshield around the objective lens with a bit of cardboard box. The projection screen was some copier paper suck to a Tea-tray.

The sky cleared several times around maximum eclipse and I managed to snap a few photos and do a bit of impromptu science communication with people wondering what I was doing.

Capturing the eclipse with a cheap telescope and a teatray
Capturing the eclipse
Projecting the partial eclipse onto a screen


A few minutes after getting my first vaccine

I took a short trip to Dagenham East for the first of my vaccinations this morning. No queue at the site, I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. The staff were very insistent I took a sticker, I wanted one anyway.

No side effects so far. Injection site feels a little bruised, but that’s all.

A rather different week.

This time last week I knew that the week ahead might look a bit different than I am used to, but I didn’t realise it would end up with me being interviewed in the Times and on Radio 4 and being broadcast on German radio too.

We published a scientific paper that’s been in the making for the last 5 years or so. It got rather a lot of attention, on social media, on the media proper and in real life. People wanted to know what was going on with 300 year old letters and how we had read them without opening them, and more importantly what did they say?

The general gist of the letter’s contents is that Jacques Sennacques wanted his cousin Pierre La Pers to provide a copy of the death certificate of Daniel Le Pers. Unfortunately, we don’t know who Daniel Le Pers was, but we do know that Jacques needed a copy of his death certificate for financial and legal reasons probably related to the changes in French inheritance laws that were coming into play.

Unfortunately for Jacques, the letter was never delivered. It most probably ended up in the Hague as misdirected post, and it sat unopened and unread in a small wooden chest until we came along and used x-ray techniques and software to virtually open it.


Lockdown update

Nothing much to report – the log of the days fell by the wayside quickly as nothing much was changing and the days blurred together before I could note them – making notes on them was my attempt to impose some un-blurring on the whole time so it all got a bit self-referential and pointless.

I’m never going to be a diarist.

We’re now a month into the CCFS course I teach on, remote learning technology woes aside, the course is going pretty well. It is looking like we may never meet the students face to face – some students are finding this hard to accept.

One evening’s astrophotography occurred in January, it was mostly beset by equipment issues but I did get one reasonable image.

M42 – The great Orion Nebula. 120 second exposure at 700mm focal length.