Friday 28 June 2024

June 30th 1954: The Forgotten British Eclipse


June 30th 1954: The Forgotten British Eclipse


An eclipse of the Sun is one of the most awesome sights in nature. The Moon passes in front of the Sun, and where its shadow falls on the Earth, day becomes night for a brief time. The most recent eclipse of the Sun,on April 8th 2024, was visible from parts of Mexico, the United States of America and Canada. 

We are often told that that the last total eclipse of the Sun visible from the UK was in 1999 and before that, 1927. Most reports forget the British eclipse on June 30th 1954, when totality was visible from Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands, and northern Yell. A large partial eclipse was seen in other parts of Scotland, where weather permitted. 

The 70th anniversary seems a good time to tell the story of this event, which was the first total eclipse seen in Scotland since 1699. 

The path of totality started in northern Canada, passing over Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe islands and the Shetlands. It continued through southern Scandinavia, and northern Europe before ending in north eastern India. With the exception of the northern Shetlands, Scotland was to experience a partial eclipse. 

The eclipse was watched by professional and amateur astronomers from land, sea and in the air. Many Europeans chose Scandinavia, but over two hundred people made their way to Unst, travelling in the ferry 'Earl of Zetland', a small coaster which served the Shetlands until the 1970s. 

The ferry set off at 7am from Lerwick, on the mainland. It called at the islands of Whalsay and Fetlar, and the harbours of  Mid Yell and Uyeasound on the island of Yell, reaching the pier at Baltasound on the island of Unst at noon, in good time for the eclipse which would begin at twenty-five past one. The passengers included  excited school children from Lerwick Central School and Brough School, Whalsay. 

Some passengers stayed on board to watch the eclipse while others tried to reach Norwick, the most northerly hamlet in the UK. Most failed due to a lack of available transport. 

The weather on the morning of the eclipse was extremely wild; 60 mph winds and showers of sleet and rain blowing in the faces of the stoical eclipse chasers. Amazingly enough, breaks in the clouds opened up just as the eclipse started. 

Two Manchester Astronomical Society members, both Fellows of the Royal Astronomical Society, Kenneth Brieley and Gerald Marlowe, saw the eclipse from the very best vantage point. They had travelled to Unst overland. Starting in Manchester they had to take four different coaches and two small ferries, with the intention of meeting up with a larger group of British Astronomical Association members at Baltasound. They never did meet the group,  but saw the eclipse while their peers missed it. 

Brierley and Marlowe were guests of Mr & Mrs Sinclair of The Hau, Skaw, Unst, the  most northerly house in the UK. There they met up with a BAA member, Dr R H G Lyne-Pirkis, and his wife. Dr Lyne-Pirkis had arranged to watch from the headland at Skaw, where there were some disused war-era buildings for shelter. The intrepid Manchester astronomers joined the doctor, his wife, and Mr & Mrs Sinclair, on the morning of the eclipse. 

Dr Lyne-Pirkis had a 3.5 inch telescope, together with a camera on a tripod. The two Manchester astronomers were equipped with binoculars. 

Despite the wild weather the cloud thinned and the corona, or outer part of the atmosphere of the Sun, became visible. It was much brighter than expected, and a beautiful arc of bright prominences covered about one sixth of the Sun’s southern edge. 

A feature known as 'Bailey’s Beads' was seen. Named after the English astronomer Francis Bailey, who saw them during the eclipses of 1836 and 1842, the bright 'beads' are caused by sunlight shining through the mountain  ranges around the edge of the Moon.

 For the small group of watchers on the windswept and remote cliff top, the total eclipse could hardly have been more dramatic. They waited, with nothing but the churning sea in front of them.  The gale howled in their ears, but they could still hear the shrieks of a large flock of gulls wheeling around above them. As the eclipse began,  nearby sheep lay down or ran around, as if not knowing what to do, and the Sinclair’s hens headed for their roost in confusion. During totality, which lasted two minutes, the land and sea changed colour, and the group stood, cloaked in the eerie purple darkness, experiencing one of nature's most awesome spectacles on the very edge of Britain. 

Local residents saw the eclipse through gaps in the clouds at Norwick and Haroldswick between two and four miles south of Skaw. Mrs Mort of Norwick reported seeing the whole eclipse, including the corona and 'flames' around the edge of the Sun, looking into the windscreen of her husband’s lorry. At Baltasound, where the Earl of Zetland was berthed, the eclipse was briefly seen through cloud. The captain of the ferry noted that during totality there was a temperature drop of nine degrees. 

The 'Shetland News' noted that many of the scientists ignored local advice about the best places to view the eclipse. The BAA group arrived at Baltasound, where they were advised against going to Saxavord, the highest hill on Unst. They headed for the heights anyway, where they were engulfed in the habitual low cloud and didn’t see anything. Interestingly, Saxavord is now home to a  new UK space port, and will be a future rocket launch site. 

The best way of seeing the 1954 eclipse was from the air. The Astronomer Royal Sir Harold Spencer Jones was the first holder of the post to see an eclipse in this way. He flew from RAF Leuchars in Fife, on the east coast of Scotland, in an RAF Hastings aircraft, and described it as a fascinating experience. 

Many distinguished astronomers and figures from industry saw the eclipse from a BOAC Hermes airliner, which was on a special training flight over the north of Scotland. The aircraft carried  photographic and scientific equipment to monitor the eclipse, and the pilot tipped the plane onto its side to allow all on board to get a good view. 

1954 saw the British eclipse that everyone forgot; nevertheless it was a rare and dramatic event, worthy of attention. The Shetlands won't see another total eclipse until the 3rd June 2133. Let's hope they get better weather!


Thursday 27 June 2024

Ideas to increase performance of Saturn 1B in 1964

 On the 26th June 1964 speaking at the Herman Oberth Society , T J Gordon assistant technical director at Douglas suggests various methods whereby the performance of the Saturn 1B could be uprated sufficiently to enable it to perform interplanetary missions with heavier payloads than possible at present.


Wednesday 26 June 2024

Thomas Cooke telescope used to observe Mars in 1909 from Australia

 James Nangle at Marrickville in New South Wales using a 6.25 inch telescope which I have recently discovered was a Thomas Cooke rather that a Thomas Cooke and Sons telescope observed Mars in 1909.

 He described the darkish areas to have a greenish tinge, with the Mars Cimmerium and Syrtis Major looking like the tops of trees in an Australian valley when seen from the top of a mountain. The northern snows were also well seen. There appeared none of the canals that had been drawn by Schiaparelli or Lowell.

 On almost all occasions when a great increase in definition was required a screen of mosquito net was placed immediately in front of the object glass. Such a screen is evidently a good idea, since it slightly reduces the glare without interfering with the separating power, that vital point in all detailed planetary observations.


Tuesday 25 June 2024

June 25th 1964 test flight of X15A-2

 On June 25th 1964 Major Bob Rushworth makes the first flight in the modified number two X-15 research rocket craft. In this flight , X-15A-2 reached a top speed of 2,966 mph and a maximum altitude of some 83,000 feet.

Before this flight the aircraft had undergone a mating checkout test flight in which it remained attached to the parent B52 (conducted June 11th ) , followed by a free fall flight to evaluate further the craft’s capabilities before a powered test.


Monday 24 June 2024

The unpredictable June Bootid Meteor Shower

 I know we are in summer and that it does not get dark until very late in the evening but there is the possibility of seeing one of the most unpredictable meteor showers of the year this week.

On the night of June 27th/28th the June Bootid meteor shower will be active. Normally not a very inspiring meteor shower, occasionally in the past  it has sprung surprises on astronomers. Could this happen this year?

A meteor shower is named after the constellation where all the meteors seem to start from, in this case the June Bootids are named after the constellation of Bootes the Herdsman

Meteor showers relate to comets which are dirty snowballs travelling around the Sun. They leave a trail of dust behind the, If the Earth passes through such a dust stream we see a meteor shower.

Some people however call them shooting stars, they are nothing to do with stars. They are simply grains of dust burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The comet associated with the June Bootids is comet Pons Winnecke. On a normal year maybe 1 or 2 meteors per hour are seen, but there have been outbursts of meteor activity in 1916, 1921, 1927 and most recently in 1998 when around 100 meteors per hour were seen.


What about this year? We don’t know but if it is clear on the night of June 27th/28th have a look outside when its dark and if you see any meteors the chances are they are June Bootids,


The Astronomy Show

 Join me, Martin Lunn MBE tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, probably the only regular astronomy show on any radio station in the country. 

I will take my weekly look at the night sky and look at all the latest news in astronomy. There will be the astronomical anniversaries this week plus the A-Z of Constellations

 The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio live on line at DAB radio in Bradford and East Lancashire, or 102 and 103.5 FM and can also be heard later on the Drystone Radio Podcast.

Sunday 23 June 2024

P Eridanus and a Cooke telescope

 The star p Eridani (not rho) is one of the most interesting double stars in the southern hemisphere. It is a double stars that had been observed since 1826. 

 Two astronomers making observations up until 1908, Mr Nangle using a 6.5 inch telescope and Mr Hirst using a 4.5 inch telescope both made by Thomas Cooke & Sons of York, agree that the distance between the two components of p Eridani are getting closer.

 Today we know that the system contains 2 K class main sequence stars orbiting each other every 475 years.


Saturday 22 June 2024

New appointment at British Aircraft Company in 1964

 In June 1964 The British Aircraft Company announces that Mr A R Adams B.Sc (Encom) FCIS has been appointed secretary of the British Aircraft Company (Guided Weapons) Ltd.


Friday 21 June 2024

Alpha Centauri seen from Australia in 1906

 Alpha Centauri one of the leading double stars in the southern hemisphere was observed by G D Hirst using his 4.25 inch Cooke telescope and James Nangle using his 6.25 inch Cooke telescope in Australia in June and July 1906.




Thursday 20 June 2024

A Dark transit of Titan

On November 5th / 6th 1907 Mr A B Cobham and Mr G D Hirst using a 4.5 inch Thomas Cooke & Son telescope in Australia saw a dark spot on Saturn. This was afterwards ascertained to be Titan. 

They also both commented that they caught glimpse of the edge of the ring at flashes, the impression indicating the extreme fineness and delicacy of the rings when seen edgewise


Wednesday 19 June 2024

Partial solar eclipse My 25th 1900

The eclipse was observed using the G J Newbegin  9 inch Cooke telescope with a power of 75  by Mrs Newbegin and Rev T E R Phillips using the projection method. The image produced was 4.2 inches in diameter.


Tuesday 18 June 2024

Summer Solstice

 This month summer officially begins. At 9.50 pm on June 20 the Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky, marking the instant in time known as the Northern Hemisphere's summer solstice. The nights will be at their shortest for the next few weeks, making it difficult to see the stars until very late in the evening. In the Southern Hemisphere of course, winter officially begins.

People will be at Stonehenge on the morning of June 21st as the Sun rises at 04.52 am

One things astronomers like about midsummer's day is that after this date the length of night time slowly begins to increase.


Monday 17 June 2024

The Astronomy show

 Join me, Martin Lunn MBE tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, probably the only regular astronomy show on any radio station in the country. 

I will take my weekly look at the night sky and look at all the latest news in astronomy. There will be the astronomical anniversaries this week plus the A-Z of Constellations.

The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio live on line at DAB radio in Bradford and East Lancashire, or 102 and 103.5 FM and can also be heard later on the Drystone Radio Podcast.


Moon close to Antares 'The Rival of Mars'

 It doesn’t get dark until late on June evenings but there are still some great things that can be seen in the sky with the naked eye.

Even on bright evenings the Moon cannot be missed and there is a great opportunity to see it either side of the bright red star Antares in the constellation of the Scorpion on the 19th and 20th of June.

As soon as it gets dark look to the south where you will see the Moon. On the 19th the Moon will be to the right of Antares while on the 20th it will be to the left.

Antares is always seen low in the sky from Britain which is a shame because it is a fantastic object in the sky. It I a red supergiant star. In fact it is so big that the orbits of the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars could all fit inside the star. Antares is sometimes known as the ‘Rival of Mars’ because of its bright red hue.


Sunday 16 June 2024

June 1964 update on John Glenn

It was announced on the 13th June 1964 that Lt Col John Glenn has recovered sufficiently from his inner ear complaint that he can now work in his garden and go for walks.

Dr Charles Berry of the Manned Spacecraft Centre said, “He is much better ha a month ago”


Saturday 15 June 2024

New director for ASGARD in 1964

 In June 1964, Dr William P Jones, previously superintendent of the Aerodynamics division National Physics Laboratory, London is appointed to the post of director of ASGARD. 

He is to take up his duties in NASA’s Advisory Group on Aeronautical Research and Development in July this year.


Friday 14 June 2024

W M Baxter and a Cooke telescope

 W M Baxter used a 5 inch Cooke equatorial in Edinburgh to observe a series of occultations of stars  during the partial eclipse of the Moon on the night of 16th-17th December 1899. He observed 10 stars before fog and cloud prevented further observations


Thursday 13 June 2024

Sunspots seen from Reading with a Cooke telescope

 In 1896 the Rev J H Jenkinson of St Mary’s vicarage  Reading, Berks described a series of sunspot drawings he had made between February and August of that year. He used a 4.5 inch Thomas Cooke of York telescope.


Wednesday 12 June 2024

First flight of the UK Blue Streak rocket in 1964

On June 5th 1964 the first successful launch of the Hawker Siddeley Dynamics Blue Streak rocket was made. It was described as a text book launch. Lift off occurred from Woomera’s Pad 6A at 00.44 BST (09.14 local time) and all primary mission objectives were achieved.

The rocket motors shut off at +147 seconds rather than the planned +153 seconds. This meant that the rocket landed in the Australian desert 600 miles from Woomera rather than the planned 960 miles.

A readjustment of the Blue Streak autopilot is to be made before the next flight to prevent an occurrence of an early shut down of the motor.


Tuesday 11 June 2024

Partial Lunar eclipse observed by GJ Newbein in 1892

 The Partial Lunar Eclipse of May 11-12, 1892. By G. J. NEWBEGIN, F.R.A.S.


The night of May 11-12 turned out so exceptionally clear and fine that (though in 16 ° of Declination) the moon soon became a steady object in the telescope. With regard to the eclipse I decided to take a series of photographs at about half-hour intervals, and to endeavour to secure a permanent record of its several stages. The exposures were made at 9.20, 9.50, 10.30, 11, 11.30 p.m., 12 o'clock midnight, and 12.30 a.m. The periods of exposure were varied, to allow for the decreasing illumination of the moon, viz. :— 20s 20s 30s 40s 30s 20s 20s respectively.


The plates were the Ilford ordinary, developed by hydroquinone. The instrument by which they were taken is a 9-inch Cooke equatorial, aperture reduced to 2-inch for the whole series. The intervals between the exposures were occupied in developing the plates.


Thorpe, Norwich, Nov. 11, 1892.


Monday 10 June 2024

The Astronomy Show

 Join me, Martin Lunn MBE tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, probably the only regular astronomy show on any radio station in the country. 

I will take my weekly look at the night sky and look at all the latest news in astronomy. There will be the astronomical anniversaries this week plus the A-Z of Constellations.

The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio live on line at DAB radio in Bradford and East Lancashire, or 102 and 103.5 FM 

New observatory in Catania with a Cooke telescope

 This observatory which was completed in 1890 in Catania, Sicily is principally for astrophysics, celestial photography, meteorology and seismology. There is a 6-inch Cooke fitted with photographic apparatus; Huggins's apparatus for photographing the solar corona; 


Friday 7 June 2024

The Mallory, Irvine attempt on Mt Everest in 1924 recorded with Thomas Cooke camera lens

 On June 8th 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Sandy Irvine attempted to become the first people to climb to the summit of Mount Everest. To this day no one is sure if they made it or not.

The expedition was captured on camera the instrument used was a Newman Sinclair camera with a Thomas Cooke lens and drive system


Till robbery by Cooke worker

York Herald Saturday 16th March 1867 

Till Robbery 

Henry Petch of Market Street, York a mechanic of Messrs Cooke and Sons, was charged with stealing 2 shillings from a till in the George Inn Tap, Coney Street, York. On the previous evening the defendant entered the tap and asked for liquor. He was served, after which James Allen, the occupant of the place, went up stairs. When he came down, from certain suspicions he examined the till and found that a 2 shilling piece had been stolen. 

He went out to fetch a policeman upon which the prisoner,- who was the only person who had been in the place, ran away. He was found concealed in a corner in a yard behind the tap, and thence was taken away into custody. The prosecutor stated that he had been similarly robbed before, and his suspicions had fallen upon the prisoner as the thief. In defence the prisoner said he was innocent, and had only gone into the yard behind the tap for his convenience. 

The bench were of the opinion, however that he was guilty of theft, and sentenced hi to be imprisoned in the House of Correction for 14 days. 


Tuesday 4 June 2024

A new Clinometer from Thomas Cooke

 York Herald Saturday 25th November 1865


We (Bombay Builder) have had the pleasure of seeing a most compact and useful clinometer and manufactured by Messrs T Cooke & Sons London and York. We understand the government intends to issue them to the public works department; and we have every reason to believe that the instrument will be generally made use of by the railway and other professional men for trial work.


A gentleman who has used the instrument says, “It is impossible to over rate the advantage of this instrument, A trial path, which would have required weeks to set out by chain and level as it would have been necessary to cut down the jungle and make platforms for the instrument to stand on, was marked out in a few days and with quite as much accuracy.


The only mistakes that can arise are from the accidental slipping of one of the cross pieces , or from moving one of the radial arms of the instrument. It is only requisite to take a glance at the face of the instrument while the hand rests upon the cross piece, to ensure its accuracy. The ease and quickness with which the instrument was used made the marking out of the trail path  a pleasure to the observer, who would feel like Pegasus deprived of his wings if he had to do another under similar circumstances with level and chain instead of clinometer.


Monday 3 June 2024

The Astronomy Show

Join me, Martin Lunn MBE tonight and every Monday evening from 7.00 pm-9.00 pm on the Astronomy Show, probably the only regular astronomy show on any radio station in the country. 

I will take my weekly look at the night sky and look at all the latest news in astronomy. There will be the astronomical anniversaries this week plus the A-Z of Constellations.

The Astronomy Show every Monday evening only on Drystone Radio live on line at DAB radio in Bradford and East Lancashire, or 102 and 103.5 FM and can also be heard later on the Drystone Radio Podcast.


Thomas Cooke telescope for sale in India

 Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore) Saturday 3rd January 1891 

For sale Owner leaving India 

An equatorial telescope of 6 inches aperture by T Cooke & Sons, York driven by clockwork, with stellar and solar eyepieces. 

Also the revolving roof or dome (16 feet diameter) of sheet zinc on teak framing, covering the telescope. 

H B Hederstedt, late Chief Engineer of the Oude and Rohilkund Railway, Lucknow



Sunday 2 June 2024

Blue Streak motor test in 1964

 A static test firing is made of a rocket engine developed at the ROCKET PROPULSION EST, Westcott, Bucks, that could be used as a second stage motor in conjunction with BLUE STREAK.

The test was entirely successful, being part of a series of firings designed to increase solid propellant thrust efficiencies. 


Saturday 1 June 2024

Goonhilly Station out of operation for part of 1964

 The General Post Office announces that the Goonhill Station, Cornwall is being converted to enable it to receive signals from the EARLY BIRD communications satellite. 

Goonhilly will be out of operation for six months from September 1964. All transatlantic comsat tests and transmissions will be handled by the French station at Pleumeur-Bodou.