Jen and I were sitting at a Sicilian coffee table last week, drinking (as seemed only appropriate at the time) coffee, when we noticed a whole pile of Italians behaving very strangely. Nothing unusual there, you might think, but this lot kept rushing out of their shops to look into the sky. I deduced (correctly) that we were in the middle of an alien invasion a partial solar eclipse.
What to do? Caught during an eclipse without any dark plastic to view the sun through. So I borrowed Jen’s sunglasses and looked through them at right-angles to my own sunglasses, hoping that the polarised filters set at 90° would cut out most of the light. It’s a trick I used with polarised camera lens filters to take photographs of another partial solar eclipse in 1986, but the sunglasses’ filters were clearly of inferior quality, so the trick didn’t work.
Like I said, what to do? Then I had a flash of inspiration and whipped off my rather dapper Akubra hat. Carefully angling the hat so that the sun shone through the ventilation holes, I placed a copy of that morning’s Guardian newspaper in the hat’s shadow. As if by magic, a near-perfect image of the solar eclipse was projected on to the paper. It was, in effect, a slighly lower-fi version of the trick I used in 2004 to document with great accuracy the transit of Venus.
…I must say, I was rather pleased with myself, re-inventing the telescope in the land of Galileo.