Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or perhaps somewhere other than northern Europe), you probably know that there was solar eclipse on Friday (20th March). It was the first total eclipse visible in Europe since 11th August 1999, so it was a pretty big thing. I was 4 in ’99, and apparently not very interested- there’s a photo of myself and my sister (she was 2) sitting in the garden, where I am playing with the shoebox and frankly a little unimpressed with the tiny picture of the sun and moon on the back of Mum’s homemade pinhole camera. My sister is more interested in the rice cake she’s eating than anything else!
15 years later, there is a picture of me standing outside the National Museum in Cardiff, along with several of my friends, waiting to watch the eclipse. We have two sheets of A5 each, one with a hole in and the other to project the tiny picture of the sun and moon on- I am much more interested in it now!
We got to the Museum at 8.30ish- the peak in Cardiff was at 9.26, so we wanted to be nice and early. Upon arrival, there were already lots of people there, and a large queue, which we promptly joined. A few minutes later, a mother and daughter joined behind us, and enquired what we were queuing for. None of us knew. We’re British, so we had joined! The pair laughed at us, and began speaking in Welsh. It turns out that the queue was to look through one of the 10 pairs of solar glasses that were there- provided by the Institute of Physics (IOP) and the Uni Physics and Astronomy department. After queueing, we made our pinhole cameras (papers?) and found a likely spot to wait out the eclipse.
As it got closer to 9.26, the area in front of the Museum really filled up. There were a lot of people with the glasses- which apparently had sold out in the UK by two days before- and even more with their pinhole papers. There was a good atmosphere: lots of talking, some crazy dancing (Sneezy was very excited about the eclipse. She’s a bit obsessed with the moon) and a lot of laughing. It turned out that almost all the second year chemists were there, missing their 9am lecture on BioChemistry. Since I’m a Physicist, my lecturer had announced earlier in the week that our 9am was to be moved, so that we could go and watch the eclipse without missing any of our optics lectures. That was quite exciting, really- far more exciting than it should have been, maybe!
It got gradually darker, and colder as the moon moved in front of the sun. I think we got a few funny looks, as myself and my friends may have let out shrieks of excitement (okay, it was mostly me and Sneezy, but hey). Pretty much at the peak, a lady behind us with her two children asked if we wanted to borrow her solar glasses- possibly the best bit, since we then all got to look directly at the eclipse. Our pinhole papers had been displaying the eclipse upside down, so we all exclaimed over that and then dispersed- the chemists to their 10am lecture, the Physicists to our delayed 9am, via Costa for hot chocolate!
Obviously, Bernard (our optics lecturer) was pleased by how many people had gone to see the eclipse, and wanted to know if we’d used pinhole cameras. Since the eclipse coincided with lectures on diffraction, we did actually do 5 minutes on the physics of pinhole cameras.
All in all, it was a pretty cool day. Unfortunately, in Cambridge it was cloudy and horrible, so my younger brother- born in 2000- missed his first eclipse. Next time, G- August 2026 should be better!