How to prepare yourself for the solar eclipse

[Oliver Price | News Sub Editor]

On the 20th of March, the biggest solar eclipse since 1999 will occur across the UK. UniVerse had a chat with Mark Gallaway, the Principle Technical Officer at the University of Hertfordshire’s own Bayfordbury Observatory, about the eclipse.

Mark Gallaway explained that, a solar eclipse is caused when “the Moon gets between the Earth and the Sun, and casts its shadow on the ground.” Essentially, the Sun will be almost completely blocked by the moon, giving a beautiful shimmering effect around the Sun. This halo around the Sun is called the corona and is actually always there, but it is normally very difficult to see.

The eclipse won’t be a total eclipse anywhere in the the UK, as the Moon will only cover about 80% of the Sun, but Gallaway said that it will be the best “since 1999, and probably the best until 2026”.

Gallaway gave a few tips for any of those wanting to take advantage of this once-in-a-decade opportunity. “You certainly shouldn’t be looking at it with any kind of optical instrument unless you really know what you’re doing,” he advised. “We’ve got solar telescopes up here [Bayfordbury Observatory], so we’ll be using those, but the main telescopes won’t be used to look at the Sun as it’s far too dangerous, a good way of losing your eyesight.” – like ants under a magnifying glass.

Make sure you look at it “somewhere not cloudy,” he suggested. He also advised viewers to not “look at the Sun with the naked eye or even sunglasses; you can buy inexpensive solar glasses from all good online retailers, and they work fine, they cut out most of the light to make it safe.” He added that, “welding goggles do quite a good job as well,” so if you happen to have a pair lying around (for some reason), you can save yourself the £2.99 a pair of solar glasses would cost. He reiterated that, “you shouldn’t use sunglasses, it won’t cut out the ultraviolet light and it will do horrible things to your eyes.”

When asked what scientific research Herts would be doing with the eclipse he said: “We’ll be recording the eclipse. But we’re doing some work with the University of Reading to look at the meteorological effects of the eclipse, so we’ll be looking at the drop in temperature and the drop in sunlight. Because it’s a partial we still get quite a lot of sunlight hitting the ground, so we’re using our atmospheric monitoring equipment to do that.”

He said, “And of course we’ve got our daylight allsky camera so it will be fed on that, so anyone can see it no matter where they are.”

The allsky camera is a rounded camera that looks directly at the sky, mainly used to observe the weather conditions to see if they are suitable for imaging the sky, but it will also be likely to capture some nice images of the eclipse. The allsky camera can be found here:

Allsky Camera |
Allsky Camera |

He urged students to go and watch the eclipse: “You’re not going to see another one for 11 years in the UK. Basically go somewhere where you get a good view of the horizon… The eclipse starts just before eight o’clock so you need to be able to see the Sun before eight.”

Jessica Schonhut, the Chair of PhySoc, said to watch the UHPhySoc facebook page, as they are organising an event to go to observatory to observe the eclipse – a prime spot to watch it with minimal light pollution.


How to prepare yourself for the solar eclipse