Quiet excitement permeated the NUS Football Field as the Sun rose above the horizon on 9 March. Given that the last solar eclipse over Singapore took place seven years ago, the anticipation was evident among the spectators who gazed in rapt attention at the Sun through their Solar Viewers. Organised by NUS Physics, the Solar Eclipse Observation, which attracted a huge crowd of some 3,000 people, rounded up the host of activities put together to mark this special celestial event.
At 7.22am, the Moon started blocking out the Sun’s rays in a long-awaited solar eclipse. Sunlight turned somewhat muted when the eclipse reached maximum obscuration (87 per cent) at 8.23am. The eclipse took two hours, ending at 9.32am.
Those in Singapore only saw a partial eclipse but the Sun was completely obscured about 3,800 km away in Luwuk, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. A team of eclipse enthusiasts from Singapore, who included two NUS Physics students, had flown to Sulawesi; and a team member succeeded in beaming live the total eclipse onto a projector screen at the field. The students, Laurentcia Arlany and Edmund Yuen, were conducting an experiment to verify the bending of light by the Sun’s gravitational field, an effect predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Local astronomers, and NUS faculty and students helped the campus community and members of the public view the eclipse through telescopes they had set up. Besides telescopes and Solar Viewers, people could also catch sight of the Moon’s journey across the Sun through modified overhead projectors.
Some innovative spectators came prepared with their quirky homemade devices. Nine-year-old Raife Armstrong’s pinhole camera was made out of an oblong cardboard box whereas Dr Marcus Noga, who works at the CREATE building on campus, took less than half an hour to fashion one out of cardboard tubing he had found at his workplace.
Among those in the crowd were NUS students taking the “Sky and Telescopes” general elective module who had stayed on after an overnight stargazing session. NUS Astronomical Society members had also pulled an all-nighter. The amateur astronomers had spent the night searching the skies for heavenly objects catalogued by an 18th century French astronomer named Charles Messier.
Year 2 NUS Economics student Chow Zheng Jie, who was there with classmates from the “Sky and Telescopes” module said he found astronomy a good change from what he usually studied. For the few hours before dawn, he and his course mates saw Saturn, the distant galaxies of M42 and M45, and the Orion nebula.
“Learning astronomy helps you to see how your problems at school are insignificant compared to the scale of the Earth and solar system. It also gives me a chance to get out of the classroom and get some fresh air,” he said reflectively.
The next eclipse which will occur in December 2019 will be annular, whereby the Moon covers the Sun’s centre, leaving a “ring of fire” around the Sun’s edges.