Solar Eclipse event at Sumburgh Head

by Kirsty Halcrow -

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve are hosting a public viewing event for the dramatic total solar eclipse on
Friday 20th March. The darkest point of the eclipse is almost as dark as night on some parts of the planet. In Shetland the eclipse will be approximately 97 per cent and will be the darkest place in the UK

The spectacular sight of the moon covering a large portion of the sun will begin at 8.39am, with an almost full eclipse blocking the sun completed in an hour.

The event will take place on Friday morning from the foghorn platform and west seabird viewing platform. Both of which give clear unobstructed views of the sky and sea where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Local astronomical enthusiasts will be on hand with telescopes and other special techniques used to capture "safe" images of the event, and will also be able to answer questions and give advice.

Those attending will be able to join staff in making pinhole card devices in the Education Centre to project the eclipse onto paper with Sumburgh's current artist in residence, Sandra Hammer. In her own art practice, Sandra takes inspiration from the energy of light, the tides and the natural environment.

An installation of 70 solar lanterns, last exhibited at St James's Palace, will lead across the pathways to the eclipse viewing area. Information on these and the UK charity SolarAid which distributes lanterns in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia will be displayed in the Education Centre.

From the panoramic windows of the Education Centre, visitors will see Sumburgh Head's own solar panels on the south facing bank, which are used to produce energy for use in the Lighthouse buildings and feeding into the grid.

The Visitor Centre facilities at Sumburgh Head will be open from 8.15am on Friday 20th, including the Marine Life Centre, which explains light's essential role in the creation of phytoplankton and the marine food chain. Sited at the entrance to the MLC is the lighthouse lens from Fair Isle, which was designed by Augustine Fresnel. In 2015, Augustine Fresnel's Wave Theory of Light will be two centuries old. Far from being a footnote to history, his work is still as relevant today to anyone involved with light, lighting, the visual arts and science as it was revolutionary in its time.

Coffee, tea and soft drinks will be available from the Gift Shop, along with a range of books on history of lighthouses. Season tickets for the Visitor Centre facilities are valid for the rest of the year and remain at last year's prices.

This is a partnership event which brings together Geopark Shetland, University of Glasgow School of Physics and Astronomy, the Shetland Astronomical Society and the Institute of Physics as a celebration of the UNESCO Year of Light. The Scottish Funding Council has provided funding to the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance, Institute of Physics and other partners for a programme of activities in Scotland during the International Year of Light. This includes a launch event, a touring light-themed “lab in a lorry” and a closing event at Heriot-Watt University on 2nd December.

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