Belfast Telegraph

Glass half empty for eclipse expert

A scientist who got closer to the solar eclipse than most mere mortals has hinted he would have enjoyed the view as much at home with a beer.

Dr Peter Gallagher, associate professor in physics at Trinity College Dublin, was able to open a window on a plane 13,000 feet over the Atlantic to take unique images of the blacked out skies and the sun.

"I was running scientific cameras at the time but it was phenomenal," he said.

"We dropped down to 13,000 feet and found a gap in the clouds. We were surrounded by clouds and got five minutes of clear views.

"It was absolutely magnificent. The sky went completely dark and we could see the stars. It was an awe-inspiring sight."

Dr Gallagher was flown over the ocean about 450 miles north-west of Donegal by the Irish Air Corps to capture footage of the spectacular eclipse event for an international science project.

The trip was planned as part of research with the University of Hawaii and Aberystwyth University in Wales to study the fundamental physics of the atmosphere and the effects of the eclipse on the earth.

Scientists with specialist cameras from all three institutes were on board to take measurements with the aim of trying to determine why the temperatures of the solar atmosphere and the sun's outer layer corona build to extremes of one to two million degrees.

The team used filters on cameras to capture the solar image.

At one stage they were able to open a window on the Casa maritime patrol aircraft and take pictures without distortions from the glass.

"It's not as dangerous as it sounds," Dr Gallagher assured.

Lieutenant Colonel Kevin O Ceallaigh, captain of the flight, said: "In 29 years flying that was the most exhilarating and remarkable flight I've ever had the pleasure to be involved in."

The Trinity College team, and colleagues in Hawaii and Aberystwyth, will study the footage and images over the next six months as part of their research into the effects of eclipses and the sun.

Despite the success of the mid-Atlantic mission, Dr Gallagher suggested he would have got as much of a buzz by relaxing with a beer and watching the near two hour event unfold from ground.

"In terms of the quality of the images, the quality is absolutely excellent, in terms of my own personal enjoyment, that's another thing," he said.

"There's the science and there's the human being in these things. I had a headset, protective glasses, holding a camera and I was talking to other scientists about what was going on so I got little time to have fun.

"From a science point of view this was most successful.

"Personally, I'm completely buzzed after it but I wasn't able to sit back and have a beer and enjoy it."

Dr Gallagher said his previous attempts to capture and study a solar eclipse include a trip to Guadalupe in the Caribbean as a phD student which ended in disaster when generators failed and no scientists were able to work and the August 1999 eclipse in northern Europe which returned mixed results.


From Belfast Telegraph