Solar eclipse event at Sumburgh Head celebrating UNESCO Year of Light

The Shetland view will be an even narrower crescent than the narrowest in this sequence.  Images and processing courtesy of JCBrown, MI Brown  and R Arnold The Shetland view will be an even narrower crescent than the narrowest in this sequence. Images and processing courtesy of JCBrown, MI Brown and R Arnold On Friday 20th March, there will be a dramatic total solar eclipse which occurs when the Moon comes between the Sun and the Earth and casts the darkest part of its shadow (the umbra) on Earth. 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% 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.

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse Visitor Centre and Nature Reserve will host a viewing event 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. 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.

On the Friday evening, Dr. Giles Hammond (Institute for Gravitational Research, Physics and Astronomy, SUPA University of Glasgow) will give a talk about the eclipse and the International Year of Light 2015 at Shetland Museum and Archives, beginning at 7.30pm.

A key point for eclipse viewing is that you must never look directly at the sun, eclipsed or otherwise, without protective eyewear. The Sun’s UV radiation can burn the retinas in the eyes leading to permanent damage or even blindness. Special protective solar glasses will be available for sale in the gift shop at Sumburgh Head during the eclipse. Local astronomy 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. One of the key aims of the UNESCO International Year of Light is to champion the availability of solar lighting in the developing world.

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. UNESCO are promoting solar energy in the Year of Light as the source of energy beyond wind power which is both cost effective and does not damage the environment with release of carbon during construction.

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.

Displays in the Engine Room explain the history and changing technology in lighthouses, and how lighthouse light has been powered since 1821.

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.