WORDS: STEVE KIRK

On June 10th between about 10.10 a.m. and 12.20 p.m. a partial eclipse of the Sun will be visible from UK, weather permitting. When I say ‘visible’, I mean it may be seen provided suitable precautions are taken to protect your eyes. Even a brief glance directly at the sun can cause permanent damage to your eyes, so should not be attempted under any circumstances.

We will be holding a safe eclipse viewing event at Wildwood so that if you are visiting the park during that time you will be see the partial silhouette of the New Moon cutting across the solar disc, via a number of simple but ingenious methods – projected onto card through binoculars, pinhole cameras and eclipse glasses.

For an eclipse of the Sun to occur it has to be at the New Moon. That is the time when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. As it happens the disc of the Moon, although much closer, appears the same size as the Sun in the sky, which is why it makes such a perfect fit during a total eclipse. Sometimes though, the Moon crosses the Sun whilst at the furthest point of its orbit, which is slightly elliptical, and so appears a fraction smaller than the Sun. This gives a ‘Ring of Fire’ eclipse at totality. Along a narrow path that passes through Greenland and other remote parts of the Arctic Circle this is the case on Thursday. However, the British Isles are quite far from that path so we will only see a relatively small bite out of the Sun.

This would be a bite from the wolf, Skoll, of course, who the Vikings believed chased the Sun across the sky, intent on devouring it. It may be necessary on the day to do as they did, and beat some pots and pans to frighten him away!

During the total eclipse of the Sun in August 1999 that was visible from southern England, the birds stopped singing at totality and cattle lay down for the duration of the full phase. An eerie peace descended and the temperature dropped, even though it was high summer. The pots and pans where I was, on Beachy Head in Sussex, were being used to cook sausages on a camping stove, so the only noise a gentle sizzling sound. The 99% of totality was awe-inspiring. Even a partial eclipse is strange and wonderful.

A solar eclipse always occurs about two weeks before or after a lunar eclipse. One happened on May 26th but was not visible from our part of the planet, which was in daylight at the time.

A lunar eclipse can only occur at Full Moon, when the Sun, Earth and Moon line up, with the Earth in the middle. In that way the Earth’s shadow falls across the Moon’s face. The Vikings believed a different wolf, named Hati, was responsible for this. The Moon, when swallowed turned blood red but would slowly rise up again from the wolf’s stomach to escape once again, helped by a clamour and din from the ground. The next lunar eclipse occurs for this part of the world on November 19 at 07.18 in the morning… but unfortunately the Moon sets six minutes later!

If you would like to see the solar eclipse come and join us on Thursday at 10.00 a.m. The event is free, subject to normal park entry fees. Fingers crossed for sunshine.