Partial Solar Eclipse Viewed Through the Clouds Over Cookstown - October 25th 2022

I will admit I'm a fan of solar and lunar eclipses and anytime a transient phenomena of this type occurs I like to do my best to observe it. It brings back memories of seeing my very first partial solar eclipse during 1999 which was quite spectacular, the Moon covered a sizeable area of the solar disk, in fact, the deepest partial eclipse I've ever seen to date, and during mid eclipse the sky definitely did get darker with a drop in temperature, it was quite amazing. I fondly remember making sketches of the eclipse from first contact to last contact so I could later write up the experience in my log book. At the same time I was peeking inside to check out the TV as Sir Patrick Moore was watching a total solar eclipse from England, he was battling cloud while at the same time an aircraft flying above the cloud deck was streaming live footage of the eclipse for everyone at home, this added to the thrill of the day and ever since then I've tried to never miss an eclipse.

The October 25th eclipse from N. Ireland was a partial, it would never be deep enough to have the same impact of the 1999 event, however a good 20% or more of the solar disk would get covered by the Moon and that was sufficient enough to be interesting. The event would take place during late morning with the best portion between 10.00 and 11.00 local time. The forecast looked dodgy, despite being a dry and fairly calm day the overall trend was cloud which would move in during the morning so expectations were very low. Having said that the cloud was mid level and some of the models indicated breaks so there was a chance of getting a glimpse at some stage. That morning Roisin alerted me to a nice sunrise, I had a look, amazingly the sky was clear and beautiful with a blazing yellow sun on the horizon, it would be wonderful if it stayed like that for the eclipse however I knew it wouldn't, however in a way I needed some cloud which I will explain shortly.

As soon as I officially got up it completely clouded over on que which was no surprise. However I noticed that the mid level cloud was light, I got regular glimpses of the sun popping in and out and it was the kind of situation which meant I could take brief looks at the sun with the naked eye without any discomfort which was a good sign. I decided to watch the event from my back garden in Cookstown, I had the camera set up with 100-400mm lens and settings selected as a rough guess based on previous experience, then it was just a waiting game.

In the background on the lap top I was watching the live solar eclipse watch from Greenwich for extra atmosphere. Eclipse time was approaching, I took many test images, nothing, a normal solar disk, then suddenly a few minutes later I took another image and the disk wasn't perfectly round, it looked sheared off at an angle to the NE, first contact!, the eclipse was underway. I used this time to refine my settings, I was just hand holding the DSLR (crop sensor to get more reach) with the 400mm. I made sure to never look directly through the camera's viewfinder so my eyes were never at risk, instead I used live view via the LCD screen to observe the eclipse and frame my shots. When a thinner section of cloud yawned open to reveal the sun I snapped this one showing the Moon's well defined bite into the solar disk.

Amazingly despite the cloudy skies I got to watch the entire eclipse on and off for the entire event which was much more than I had expected. The cloud helped me get a record and here's why. If the sky had been perfectly clear with a bright sun I wouldn't have been able to get any images, I would have needed a special solar filter over the lens which I didn't have. In such a situation I wouldn't be able to get any images at all as the camera couldn't handle the brilliance of the sun, no settings could dampen the intense light and furthermore it could damage the sensor. In this situation I would just watch the eclipse visually using my old Meade 90mm ETX using the safe projection method.

If the correct type of cloud is present then the situation is reversed. The cloud can't be too thick to obscure the sun completely but just enough to let the general outline or solar disk be seen through the cloud veil. When this happens the cloud acts like a filter dramatically reducing solar glare and allowing me to expose the camera for the sun, and this is how this morning went. As the density of the passing cloud waxed and waned so did the brightness of the sun, at times it was easy to see, at other times dim or barley visible, as a result I had to continuously adjust my exposure and f/stop settings to accommodate these changes so it was a busy period which kept me on my toes. The above is my favourite from the event, 400mm and slightly cropped, this was around maximum eclipse, this was what I wanted, the morning was already a success.

Deeper crop, because of the fast shutter speed the darkness of the clouds were accentuated to expose for the sun which made the scene quite moody like black smoke drifting over the solar disk, maybe a slight Halloween ambience?

A little later the moon gradually began its trek back towards the eastern limb then was gone and the eclipse was over, it all seemed to happen so fast. All in all I was happy to have seen it visually and to have taken a few images for the record, in fact, this was the second partial solar eclipse I've seen within a year, the last during the Spring of 2021 from OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory, both events were seen through clouds which tells you alot about the N. Ireland weather. After midday the cloud became thicker and I rarely saw the sun again so I was very lucky indeed. Autumn has been a fairly quiet period so far for sky action, the eclipse was a nice side show, however I'm still hoping for a good aurora or convective storm event, and once we get into late November I will honestly be looking for the first snow scenes of Winter. Thanks very much for reading.


Martin McKenna

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