Now the dust has settled and we can draw breath again it’s time to post an update from our Eclipse event.
Our preparations for the event started in January, when we formed an organising sub-committee, with our acting Vice President, Geoff Charlton at its head. This involved a few “fact-finding missions” (or going to the pub) to plan exactly what we wanted to do and if we could do it.
After that we went early one sunny Sunday morning at the end of January to the town centre in order to establish an optimum site for the event. The criteria were:
1. An unobscured view to the south-east during the known duration of the eclipse.
2. An area that maximised the number of members of the public who would participate.
3. An area where permission, if required, to stage the event could be obtained.
4. A contingency venue in case of bad weather.
5. Involving student organisations at both Sheffield University (SpaceSoc) and Sheffield Hallam University (SHU SEDS), to see if they were willing to help and share the event credit.
We then decided on what we would actually do. The plan was to take a variety of telescopes, all modified, or specifically designed, to allow safe observing of the sun. We also produced an eclipse information sheet which described how to safely view the event, how it would appear in Sheffield, how it happens, and information about future eclipses visible from Sheffield.
We printed many copies to hand out on the day, as well as creating a link on our website so it could be downloaded as a pdf file and printed individually.
Taking all the above points into consideration, we selected two venues, one of which was the top of Devonshire Green car park, but we decided the best venue would be outside the Owen Building at the top of Howard Street, which would not only attract students from both universities, but also passing members of the public on their way to and from the railway and bus stations. We then arranged by an exchange of emails with several departments at Hallam to get permission, which we eventually obtained. We also contacted the City Council about a contingency venue, and they suggested the Moor Market, for which they would charge us a fee, so we decided to ignore this. In February we ordered some eclipse glasses as we knew these would be like gold dust nearer the event.
Then we needed to organise ourselves into various “teams” so that everyone knew what they were expected to do, where and when to be, as the eclipse would not wait while we dithered and pondered. To that end we had a “loading team” to ferry the equipment to Howard Street, where they would be met by an “unloading and set up team” who would get on with things while the vehicles were taken away and parked. Meanwhile our “media team” would handle questions from the press, TV and Radio (in fact we did a radio interview less than one hour before the eclipse started). This would leave the rest of our crew available to interact with general public during the event. We also arranged to have a “Scotland team” to get pictures from Wick on the north coast – much closer to the line of totality than Sheffield.
On the eve of the eclipse the loading team, comprising of Geoff and myself went to our storage facility with a manifest of the equipment we were to take. We checked it all and arranged it so it could be quickly loaded in the morning. All that was left was to hope for fine weather. We had been constantly checking online weather forecasts, all of which gave conflicting predictions so it was just a case of “fingers crossed” at this point.
On the day, most of us were up at six a.m. and marvelling at the clear skies and bright sunshine. Geoff and I went to the storage location at 07:15, where we were met by an additional car. We loaded in under ten minutes and were on our way.
Arriving at the venue, the plan swung into action and worked flawlessly, except for the cloud that was encroaching from the north. By the time we had everything ready there was thick cloud and we could not align our computer controlled telescopes. A few people appeared and we told them about our equipment and what we were trying to do. Then the cloud gradually thinned to the point where we simply look at the eclipse without the protection we had been so strongly advising everyone about, but we missed the start (first contact). The crowd grew and grew, and at its peak we estimate there were 400 people there (and an estimated 1500 during the course of the whole two-hour event).
We handed out eclipse glasses, and people were sharing them around, chatting to complete strangers, and a kind of carnival atmosphere simply grew of its own accord. Many of our team took photographs of the eclipse and the crowd, while we were able to get pictures from Scotland on our mobiles. I took a moment to look at the crowd, and everyone seemed to be smiling.
At the end the crowd dispersed and we put our set up plan into reverse, returned our equipment to storage, the reconvened initially in the Showroom, and subsequently the Rutland for some much needed relaxation. Looking at the photographs later it is apparent that the society members and the public enjoyed it all immensely. We had achieved our goals, and had made a lot of people aware of the society and what we do. We have had many people joining our Facebook group and some new society members too.