Dark Side of the Moon

Heavens Above! What a week for sky watching!

My knowledge of astronomy or even physics could comfortable fit on a pin head with room to spare but even to an ignoramus like me there’s been plenty going on overhead to take a passing interest in and Wales – for once – has had the weather to implement it. In fact, we’ve possibly had it better than a lot of others gazing heavenward…

I so very nearly missed the Northern Lights on Tuesday night. A tip off from a friend, Liz, in my Ravelry group late on Tuesday evening that the Aurora Borealis might be visible, cloudy skies permitting, from large parts of the UK including Wales saw me postpone my bedtime, drag some jeans and a sweater on over my pyjamas that I was already happily snuggled into (well why take them off? Layers are the way to go) and headed off up the road at around 11pm to see what I could see. I didn’t take my camera, I know from experience that it’s not great with night photography and I have no tripod for time lapse photography but now I wish I had.

I stood in our lane facing North and let my eyes adjust to the sky. Quite a few stars were visible but the sky wasn’t inky black like it so often is and a small amount of light pollution was glowing across the horizon from our two nearest towns. Higher above that was a glowing line of light. Could it be? Could that possibly be the Aurora Borealis? I had almost convinced myself that I was imagining things, that it was wishful thinking when I noticed some “spears” or “curtains” of light that I’d never seen before in a night sky rising up towards the zenith. I stared intently then relaxed my eyes and allowed my peripheral vision to rest lightly on the areas I wanted to look at – I was sure it was wishful thinking, as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to see the Northern Lights…

There it was! They were moving, changing. It was so faint that it was like grasping something small floating underwater. There were no colours for me, just a haze of glowing light and some shapes. I stood and watched for half an hour or so, I could feel the Scotch Mist falling on my face – the cloud blocked out most of what I could see but my heart leaped to know that I had finally had the chance to see the Northern Lights and miraculously, from my own home too. I was getting cold so headed back indoors and watched a bit more from my living room window which is much higher being upstairs and could no longer see the glow but at one point the sky did seem red and then faded out again.

The next morning it was apparent that all over Wales people had had a great opportunity to see the Aurora as well as other parts of UK and the world. I wish I’d known sooner and known more – next time, should there be a next time, I hope I will be better prepared and with a camera and tripod I can do time lapse shots on to enhance the light and colours. But I’m so happy to have seen it.

The links and photos of Tuesday’s Aurora that follow are NOT taken by me and credited and sourced where at all possible.

This photo taken in the Peak District is most similar to what I saw – only more colourful than the sight I was treated to. (Source: Mark Slater – BBC news)

Northern lights

This morning my mum showed me our local paper The Shropshire Star, yesterday’s edition and the cover photograph was of the Aurora – taken by my talented friend Roel Driesen which was very exciting! The link to the photograph is here and the article explained that Roel had recently come back from an unsuccessful trip to Finland to see the Aurora so I’m really pleased he had a chance to photograph the Northern Lights from home in Shropshire! Roel is a vet and he and I used to work together about 12 years ago and back then he helped inspire me and foster my fledgling interest in photography and images – he was really encouraging even though I wasn’t then, and am still not, a very good photographer! (He also happens to be the most skilled surgeon I’ve ever worked with – multi talented that man! ;0)

Other images from Wales show that the skies were lit up with colour: locally the best spot was at the castle over the hill from me and I wish I’d thought of this, the view was spectacular according to those who went. A couple of miles further over, apparently it wasn’t misty like here. Shame.

Here are some images from BBC Wales in glorious colour. Awesome.

So today for the Solar Eclipse I was a wee bit more prepared. Only a bit though. I didn’t have any suitable glasses to view the eclipse safely but when I got up this morning I hunted for a suitable box to make a pinhole camera.


I cut a hole, taped some tinfoil over and made a pinhole in it.


I taped a piece of white paper on the opposite internal face and cut a viewing hole at right angles to it and taped the box shut.


It wasn’t intentional but I think the box’s previous use was very appropriate!

I headed outside just as the eclipse was starting – here the weather was gloriously sunny and the birds were singing and bees buzzing.


I lined myself up with the sun…


I wasn’t sure if my “camera” would work but happily it was fine and the eclipse showed up nice and clearly on my viewing pane.


Bit by bit the moon moved between the sun and the earth and I was able to see it quite safely in my little home made box – even if it was less dramatic than begin able to view it directly through dark lenses – sunglasses or darkened glass aren’t suitable and you can damage your retinas trying to look at the sun, not something I wanted to risk! I took a few photos directly by waving the camera in the general direction and hoping as I squeezed the shutter button. I think that’s not meant to be very good for your camera either but I decided to risk it. I can buy a new camera but I can’t buy new eyeballs!!




After a about 15 minutes I looked down and saw that Henrietta had come to join me and was sitting at my feet.


Several friends reported that their chickens were confused by the light levels changing and headed back to bed but clearly our pekins know a thing or two and weren’t phased in the slightest and stayed with me right up to the fullest part of the eclipse as did Badger the collie. Tommy the cockerel was more fussing about appearance and spent most of the time chuckling to himself under his wingpits and rearranging ruffled feathers which is why he looks headless in all the photos…



After that, even 15yr old Guinness who spends almost all his time asleep came out for a wee and a totter around in the fresh air.


Even he stayed for the best bit of the eclipse! I’m glad because he was born a few months after the last one in 1999 so this is his only solar eclipse ;0)


It didn’t go dark here but the light have a very strange quality to it – I decided I was going to call it “gluminous” because it was both gloomy and vibrant at the same time. It did however go noticeably chilly and I popped into the house to fetch a coat, mitts and a nice steaming mug of coffee to wrap my paws around.


This is the most “eclipsey” projection I got and then we were through and moving out the other side.



I chanced another wildly waving snap at the sun and once I uploaded it I was curious to see that the eclipse had been refracted somehow – if you look below the actual sun you can see a little crescent sliver like the ghost of a fingernail trimming… (my lens is also dirty but I don’t know when my lens tissues are sorry)



So then we got a bit experimental because, well, only so many photos you can take of a pinhole camera. So out came my IKEA colander and woohoo! Hundreds of eclipses!


Badger has a crude physics lesson for A Brief (moment in the) History of Time…


And then we just got silly…


The eclipse was slowly sliding out and away




And the birds started tweeting again (as were probably a large portion of the human population no doubt) and it warmed up a bit again.


And that was it. For another 11 years…

I missed the Supermoon (but not sure how much you can see at New Moon?) and it’s the Equinox today so in all it’s really been very busy upstairs. I’ve found it all very interesting even if I don’t really understand much of the science behind it. But wow, how lucky we were to get the weather and the chance to stop and wonder for a while.


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