On March 12th 2006 a partial eclipse of the sun would take place for observers situated on a wide track over Europe. As is always the case with major astronomical events many observers expressed their concerns about the cloudy reputation this part of the world has and with good reason as the recent penumbral Lunar eclipse was washed out by dense cloud. On the night of the 11th the night sky was crystal clear and looked to stay that way for the rest of the night with the promise of clear skies tomorrow. I woke up at 08.30 LT and already the sun was shinning through my blinds. Once I stepped outside I was greeted by the best morning I have seen in some time. The sky was crystal clear, very transparent with good seeing. The sun was well placed in the eastern sky glaringly bright and warm. So warm in fact that I decided to do my observing in a T-shirt.
Meade 90mm ETX RA with 26mm SP eyepiece and full aperture Baader astro solar filter.
Fuji S5600 5.1MP digital camera on tripod at ISO64 shutter priority 1000 with solar filter.
I set up my 90 mm ETX with Baader filter and beside it I had my digital camera on tripod with the correct settings and batteries charged from the previous night. At 48X I could see two active regions designated 865 and 866 near the eastern edge of the sun sporting fine detail and delicate faculae. It was 10.30, the sky was brilliant, the gear ready and the count down had begun. I rang Conor Mc Donald who was also set up in his front garden in Crewe Drive. He too was excited and waiting patiently for the show to begin. Conor planned on using a traditional method by projecting the suns disk through his 4.5” TAL reflector into a card board box (later onto his garage roof!) which is not only safer but displays a very large image of the disk for a crowd of sky watchers to see at once.
Then to my surprise EAAS chairman Mark Stronge arrived down with his father to watch the eclipse with me. Mark set up his DSLR with telephoto lens and filter. He also brought along his binoculars and eclipse shades. We took a few test shots of the solar disk and waited.
Just after 22.52 we seen first contact!! The suns disk was now not quite circular but had a straight slither cut from its limb. Through the telescope we watched the jet black disk of the moon creep across the southern hemisphere of the sun getting more hungry with each passing minute as it ate up more of the white (filtered) solar disk until at mid eclipse it had covered 20% of the suns visible surface. Mark projected the suns image through his binoculars onto a sheet of white card were we seen not one but two tiny eclipsed sun images at the same time. Through the eclipse shades the sun was a beautiful high contrast orange disk. With careful attention we could actually see the dark lunar disk moving across the sun in real time! The larger of the twin sunspot groups could also be glimpsed with the protected naked eye. Through the ETX I could see a hint of the moons mountains as little 'bumps' on the northern hemisphere of its disk.
One of my new neighbors came over whom I have never met before. As it turns out he has been interested in astronomy for years and was present at the 1999 total solar eclipse of which he described the eerie atmospheric changes in the environment. We gave him a good look through the equipment and he was delighted by what he saw. Even though the event lasted more than an hour the time seemed to move at a surprisingly fast speed and before we knew it the moon was rapidly heading on its journey east along the ecliptic and we watched its dark bite shrink in size. A light cloud formation passed over the sun, I turned my head skyward and seen the eclipse with the unprotected naked eye (not recommended) which was quite a thrill. Mark and his father continued on in there journey and I watched the last dark slice of the moon drift away leaving the suns disk back to its former self…fare well. This was just in time as not long after the eclipse clouds moved in followed by hail and a short snow shower!
This was a very enjoyable observing session, the eclipse itself was very exciting to watch and was all the more enjoyable by the perfect weather and sky conditions as well as the company of my fellow observers which made the experience a very pleasant memory that I will not forget. What a success!!!. Now to see a total solar eclipse!
Martin Mc kenna