Saturday, 21 March 2015


Remember Sándor Petőfi

The UK's Meteorology Office began yesterday with the most pessimistic forecast of weather for seeing the eclipse. Nowadays the Met Office always seems to offer what it judges the popular audience will consider the most disappointing interpretation of the meteorological data available. That way, presumably, it cannot be readily sued for raising unmet hopes. So yesterday morning, whilst begrudgingly allowing that Wales and the Midlands might have the country's least unfavourable condition for viewing today's eclipse, the early morning forecast gave the distinct impression that even here the sky would probably be overcast.

The best weather forecast, anyway, is usually just to look out of the window. When it was light enough I did, and saw 100% cloud cover. So it goes.

The two hours of the Midlands' eclipse were to be from half-past nine to half-past eleven.

By 0830 first patches of pale blue were appearing to the north. Time to act less nonchalant and hurry to set out a brimming bowl of water. By 0900 cloud cover was down to 25%, but occupying precisely the quadrant in which the sun was trying to rise. The cloud was moving away, but oh so slowly. And it was thinning too.

Tenterhooks till 0920, when at last the rim of the by now semi-transparent cloud cleared the sun. And bingo, the sun already well occluded shone down into my bowl. I felt as proud and pleased as an ancient astrologer in Assyria or at Stonehenge.

The partial eclipse was at its maximum at 1031, just as predicted, and then the moon began passing to the other side. No surprises there, just an unexpected satisfaction to follow what had been an unexpectedly exciting half hour.

As expected had been the silence of the birds and the strange sunset-style semi-darkness. The day did not grow suddenly chill, however, as it yet to warm up from the chill of the night.

Too cold to hang around much longer lying on the damp grass. Time to get back to the central heating, just popping out just a few times to watch (in the water in my bowl) the eclipse dying away in the now totally clear blue sky. I saw the moon diminish to no more than a cuticle, and then disappear. It was 1130.

The next partial eclipse visible from the British Isles will be in 2026, and the next total one in 2090. No comment.

A warning from history

The real eclipse done, it was time to switch on the computer, and from Hungary up popped Sándor Petőfi, as he sometimes does.

Sándor Petőfi was a national poet, national revolutionary hero and all-round good egg. He is not just a national icon, however, he is also a fine peg on which to hang dire warnings about not looking directly at the sun during an eclipse (or any other time for that matter).

He was only nineteen at the time of the total eclipse of 8 July 1842 and, I gather, not given to accepting the advice of his elders and betters. He suffered lifetime consequences after he followed the thinning sun with the naked eye, despite the warning of his teachers. He never saw clearly again with his left eye.

At least he got a poem out it
Teremtő isten! Szemeimre
A vakságot tán csak nem küldöd?
Mi lesz belőlem, hogyha többé
Nem láthatok lyányt s pipafüstöt!

Guessing wildly, and exercising a little subjective poetic licence, I think that this says something like –
O God the Creator! Just maybe
You will not bring blindness to my eyes?
What will become of me if I no longer can
Look upon young women and pipesmoke!

Hardly John Milton, but then Sándor Petőfi was only nineteen at the time. All for the lack of a bowl of water, plus perhaps a little too much pride.

Watching the previous eclipse

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