Category Archives: London

Eclipse chasing

Can you really be an eclipse chaser if you’ve only actually chased one eclipse?
My chased eclipse was August 1999 – south west England. Back in the mid 1980s I had a book of fascinating astronomical facts, it listed the dates of upcoming eclipses until the far-off Year 2000. I decided that I’d see that one, and as time passed, I did find myself watching very cloudy skies from a side road near the hurlers stone circle. The sky did darken at the appointed time, the surrounding fields lit up with camera flashes and there was a genteel sense of disappointment when the sky cleared for a glorious sunny afternoon shortly after the end of the eclipse.

I’ve since caught a few other eclipses visible from London, but I’d not gone out of my way to travel to see any. I’ll not count the North American October 2014 partial eclipse as chasing because I was already in the country for other reasons.

Of course it was cloudy for the big event today. My preparation of solar film, pinholes and time-lapse camera was for nothing. With about ten minutes until first contact between sun and moon, I decided I’d at least have a try at logging the change in light levels.

I quickly bodged together an Arduino, an SD card and a light sensor, and put it in the garden. The plan being the thick cloud cover may stop be seeing the ellipse directly, but would act as a perfect diffuser for making whole-sky light level measurements.

Quick and dirty light logger

The graph shows the result – it got dark(er) when it should have.

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The y-axis units should be Lux, but are uncalibrated.

Other eclipses during my life.

July 1982 – No memory of this one.
December 1982 – No memory of this one either.
May 1984 – Vague memory of my Grandfather trying to view this though smoked glass.
May 1994 – Watched this though a pinhole in card held up to my eye.
October 1996 – I must have watched this, but I can’t recall it.
August 1999 – The big one, had planned to watch this since the mid 1980s. Got stuck in traffic close to our chosen viewing spot (along with half of Cornwall and the BBC), watched from the side of the road. Cloudy, but magic.
May 2003 – Far too early for me.
October 2005 – Set up with telescope and camera at work, clouds rolled in. Managed to get the occasional glimpse of the sun in projection though the telescope.
March 2006 – May have tried to watch this one, but it was only a tiny fraction partial eclipse and I was deep in PhD writing up, so no memory of this eclipse.
August 2008 – Another tiny fraction partial eclipse, I think I tried to spot it using a stack of CDs as a solar filter.
January 2011 – Early and cloudy, nothing seen.
October 2014Nicely visible from a front porch in Minneapolis
March 2015 – as above, cloudy but at least some data from the eclipse.

Running

I’ve always enjoyed a good run, but somehow got out of the habit between the ages of 14 and 25ish. Then got back into it in a not very serious way. Now I try to run 2 to 3 times per week – usually in my work lunch hour (and a bit).

I’ve been running distances up to 20km in 2h without serious problem – apart from needing a few days of doing not much moving at all afterwards.This would put me on course for a 4h marathon time (assuming linear scaling and a bit of effort to get a little faster).

I didn’t get a place in the ballot for this year’s London marathon, but I did manage to get a place in the Cancer Research London 10km Winter Run. I ran that yesterday, without 5000 others. It was a loop down the Embankment from Whitehall to the Tower of London, back along to St Paul’s, another loop to touch the start of Watling St then back past the front of St Paul’s before dropping down onto the embankment again and finishing at Whitehall again.

It was cold, but good fun. I knocked around 6 minutes off my previous best time for the 10km, coming in at 50.52

Might aim for the Royal Parks half-marathon now…

A delayed update

A coupe of weekends ago I visited the Mayfield Lavender open weekend with Meagen, I meant to write about it at the time, but didn’t get around to it. No problem, Diamond Geezer also visited and wrote up the visit in more detail than I’d get around to here.

In the fields

In the fields

While there we helped collect Rosemary Beetles from the lavender plants, we got somewhere around 100 beetles in a glass jar.

 

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Rosemary Beetles (Chrysolina americana)

I also spotted a pair of Soldier beetles mating , and really wished I’d taken along a decent camera. It’s hard to do macro photography with a phone camera.

Common Red Soldier Beetle - Rhagonycha fulva maiting

Common Red Soldier Beetle – Rhagonycha fulva maiting

Monumental science

It’s not commonly known that the Monument in London was constructed not only to commemorate the great fire, but also as a scientific laboratory. Two of the great scientists of the day, Hooke and Newton performed experiments in basic physics and materials science.
Yesterday evening, some physicists, myself included from Queen Mary University visited with the intention of performing the first experiment at the monument in several hundred years.

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We were successful!
The real science will start once we’ve made the equipment modifications needed for easier operation in the basement lab of the monument.
More to follow as it happens.