Luke Howard’s solar eclipse of 1820

The partial solar eclipse taking place on March 20th left me wondering if there is any record of past events for this area.

luke-howardLuke Howard‘s The Climate of London describes a similar such event that took place on September 7th, 1820. Howard describes how the thermometer fell from 68.5°F to 62.5°F. After making observations at his home in Tottenham at 10.30am Howard made his way to Stoke Newington to visit fellow scientist and Quaker, William Allen, to observe and record the eclipse.

From his account it appears that, though the weather was settled, there was a fair bit of cirrocumulus drifting across the sun during the eclipse.

As well as the fall in temperature Howard’s account describes the strange light: “The sunshine against the house was so dim as to be quite striking; and the view before us to south, which included the nearer parts of London, showed much the same as afterwards at six In the evening – dusky but not dark.”

sunHoward noted that the lowest temperature was observed about seven minutes after the greatest obscuration. He also mentions that his son noticed that spots of light falling through the shade of trees were in the shape of crescents, mirroring the lunar disc across the sun, rather than globular. He also states that Venus was very easily visible during the eclipse.

Though Howard’s account is by no means groundbreaking, it would be another hundred years before another eclipse proved Einstein’s theory of general relativity, it is fascinating how we are still just as fascinated by the sun as our forbears were.

I was in southern Turkey for the last solar eclipse which I believe was overcast in the London area. I had some data from my then AWS but I’ve misplaced it. That Oregon unit didn’t have the means of recording every minute.

Though I was outside the area of totality I still experienced the classic eclipse effects: the birds singing before going silent, reduced warmth of the sun and a very strange and eerie ‘blue’ light that is cast over everything. I’ve not experienced anything like it since and only hope that the sky on March 20th is a bit clearer than it was 16 years ago.

It is impossible to know what the weather will be like on the day at this range though a look back through my records to 1981 reveals that weather conditions on March 20th, the Vernal equinox this year, can vary greatly. In 2003 a high of 17.5C was recorded with 6.9 hrs of sunshine. However, two years earlier, the temperature reached just 4C as 8.2mm of rain fell.

It seems the media is working itself up into a frenzy over the eclipse, talking up the possibility that the event will cause a power surge that could interrupt supplies across Europe. However, the fact that solar accounts for just 10% of Europe’s renewable energy would suggest that such hyperbole is similar to the hysteria over the Y2K ‘Millennium Bug’ that  failed to materialise?

* I will be revisiting this blog after the eclipse has happened to post results from my AWS readings.

** There’s a full account of Luke Howard’s eclipse here

2 thoughts on “Luke Howard’s solar eclipse of 1820”

  1. > another eclipse proved Einstein’s theory of general relativity, it is fascinating how we are still just as fascinated by the sun as our forbears were.

    Let me hold you right there.
    We know nothing of the behaviour of the so called vacuum surround the solar system, the Oort clouds and so many more things had yet to be discovered. I am pretty sure even the magnetosphere was still a mystery at the time of Einstein. Since then nobody has had the gumption to challenge his theory. When it is an established fact, even us cranks will be stifled but until then don’t go claiming things on a professional site that belong in the realms of fantasies.

    Theories are not facts, you can tell by the name theory.


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