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 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.


Back to the lab.

I’ve spent twenty weeks away from the lab, one and a half of those with a creeping infection trying to eat my right arm off at the elbow and a further four of those some form of holiday (except for the four days spent working over those four weeks).

I’ve taken to cycling to work, which takes me down the A13 to Beckton, and then on to the Greenway to Stratford. I’m really rather pleased by the cycle routes available now, definitely improved since I last used to cycle that way about twenty years ago. I’ve only nearly been hit by a white van once.

Cycling to work obviously presents me with a chance to gather data, so data gathering I’ve been doing. I’m using google fit and runkeeper on my phone to log the journey and they both agree it takes between 45 and 50 minutes door to door. I’ve have a better idea when I’ve collected more than a week of riding.  The same journey on the Tube would take 45 minutes on a good day and closer to an hour typically. The one thing I’m really missing is the time to read on the train – it’s hard to multitask on a bike.

Only a single Astrophoto worth sharing this week. Five hours integrated exposure on NGC6888  – The Crescent Nebula. This is a work in progress project.

It’s what happens when a star sheds a load of gas into the surrounding neighbourhood, then sometime later starts blasting out a ferocious stellar wind, which catches up with the earlier shed gas and ploughs into it with enough energy to make it glow in visible light and X-rays.
NGC6888 - The Crescent Nebula

Quarantine – Week fourteen

A week in which I’m probably going to walk the dog more than write.

Monday 2020/06/15
Fixed a few bugs in some visualisation code I’ve been toying with on and off for several years. It can actually show the three projections of a volumetric data file now. Win. Now to re-work it to it’s possible to add features. This means it’ll be broken for the foreseeable future.
Walked the dog twice.
Saw a squashed stag beetle on the way home from the second walk, all the years I’ve looked for stag beetles and the only one I’ve ever seen was 20m from my front door and squashed almost flat.

Tuesday 2020/06/16
Lousy night of sleep. Too hot & too humid. Awake at 5-ish, up at 7.
Writing this. Going to take the dog out later if it’s not raining.  Took the dog over to Crouch End to visit M and go for a long walk. My first trip on a train under the new face covering rules. I made some notes:

Walking to the station : 16 masks out of >50 people
Three men on the tube with no masks – totally brazen about it. One looks like he wants a fight about it. Everyone gave them distance. Approx 4 people per 1/3 of tube carriage.

Overground from Barking, all ok to start. One fucked up guy at station before Walthamstow, ranting. Jewish lady no mask, kids with her all masked ok. Another woman wearing a mask on her chin.

We walked the parkland walk to Highgate, got takeaway Tea and walked back though the woods and playing fields to CE. Fish and chips eaten socially distanced on the green. Tea. Home.

My mask notes for the return journey:
Overground much busier, only roughly every other seat occupied. Young lady diagonally opposite me with no mask and being very blatant about it – grinning as she looks around as people get on.

District line – similar, less busy. Two young men with no masks got on together and moved to opposite end of carriage.

Despite repeated announcements on the trains, there were still people ignoring the request for face coverings, perhaps there were genuine reasons for not wearing, but I’ll never know. At least three of the people not wearing masks seemed to be doing to so make a point. No one else said anything to them, will be interesting to see if this holds when the trains a busier.

Wednesday 2020/06/17
Total waste of a day really. Almost no sleep, so really didn’t get much done at all.
Walked the dog somewhere I was sure I hadn’t been before, but saw something that made me think I had. It’s hard to second guess yourself when the first guess was 25+ years ago and you were not entirely sure back then.

Thursday 2020/06/18
A meeting on MS Teams about our impact case statement for the REF 2020 return, the reviewer hadn’t read the draft we sent, so the meeting started a bit pointless as he suggested things already addressed in the draft, we puled it together in the end and got some useful advice.

Still not sure about a return to the lab date yet.

Handlebar-post-thing extender arrive for the bike, fitted it, but have several bits left over including two very long screws that seem to go nowhere. Took the bike for a ride, much nicer now.

Friday 2020/06/19
Pottering on some code today. Should have been going on holiday.

Saturday 2020/06/20
Longest day of the year.
I’m planning to cycle to work for a few months or longer depending on transport situation and the possibility of second- and third waves. Last time I cycled to work was well over a decade ago and the journey involves part of the A13, until I can switch to the Greenway at Beckton.
The ride to Beckton was much nicer with proper cycle paths segregated from the road. Exactly 30 min from home to the start of the Greenway.
I also built an oscillator.

Sunday 2020/06/20
A day spent tinkering with code and the oscillator. Rebuilt it to be less messy and more stable.

Took the dog for a long walk.

Quarantine – Week eleven

The ongoing train wreck just ploughed through the burning orphanage and is headed for the oil refinery.

Monday 2020/5/25
Speculation is rife that Dominic Cummings will resign / not resign. He’s giving a speech from the garden of Number 10 later. Most irregular.
Later : We’re fucked. People will now do just what they want.

Imaged the Ring Nebula. Was surprised how bright it is, visible in even a 30sec exposure

The Ring Nebula. the remains of a star they died around 5000 years ago.
The Ring Nebula. the remains of a star they died around 5000 years ago.

Tuesday 2020/5/26
Did some experiments with some simple wireless sensor networks

Wednesday 2020/5/27
More wireless network experiments. Discovered after several hours of debugging that I only has transmitters on the network, nothing was set as a receiver, so the network never formed. Everything was just shouting into the void. I know the feeling.

Thursday 2020/5/28

Friday 2020/5/29
Happy Oak Apple Day.

Saturday 2020/5/30
Finished a three-night imaging session on the Bubble Nebula. Time to find a new target.
The government still hasn’t fallen.

My uncle Richard died. Complications of heart surgery.

NGC6735, The Bubble Nebula
NGC6735, The Bubble Nebula

Sunday 2020/5/31
Fixed my long neglected bike.  Took it for a ride, about three miles, a lap of the park and some surrounding streets. It needs a new seat and also a handlebar extension.