Birmingham astronomers provide commentary to solar eclipse in city centre

Staff and students from the School of Physics and Astronomy will be at Birmingham Cathedral in St Philip's Square tomorrow (20 March 2015) from 8am to offer a scientific commentary on the eclipse.

The Astronomy in the City group will contribute to a programme of activities organised by the Birmingham Cathedral.

Research experts will provide a commentary of the eclipse and speak to visitors about its importance to astronomers throughout history. They will also be on hand to provide guidance and help with constructing pin hole cameras for budding astronomers.

 

A solar eclipse occurs when the Earth, Moon and Sun all line up. By a remarkable coincidence, the Moon is just the right size to block out the Sun, if the alignment is just right. This is quite rare because of the way that the Moon's orbit is slightly tilted with respect to the Earth's about the Sun. In Birmingham, the Moon won't quite cover the Sun – it will provide approximately 88% coverage – but further north there will be a total eclipse.

Dr Christopher Berry, Research Fellow, said: "This particular eclipse is special, as it's the 300th anniversary of the Cathedral. Back in 1715, when they were brand new, there was another total eclipse visible in England, so it's a birthday treat for them!

"What we’ll see depends upon the weather! If it's clear, we'll have a partial solar eclipse. Even if it's cloudy, we'll still have some fun demos for anyone interested in learning more about how the Solar System works, gravity, or the research we do here in Birmingham."

2015 is not only a special birthday for the Cathedral, but also for Einstein's theory of General Relativity. This is our best theory of gravity, and it is 100 this year. The first experimental evidence for General Relativity came from observing a total solar eclipse and carefully measuring the deflection of starlight around the Sun. General Relativity is central to much of the research in the Astrophysics and Space Research Group today. The School will celebrate this event in April this year.


Planning to view the eclipse?

Anyone interested in viewing the eclipse on Friday must be vigilant: Christopher says "Be careful not to look directly at the Sun! Making a pin-hole camera is a good, quick-and-easy way to observe the eclipse. (I like the idea of using a colander!) You look at a projected image of the Sun, rather than the Sun itself. The Royal Astronomical Society have a good, useful guide online for safe viewing."