solar eclipse & me

Enrolling myself in the Science Communication MSc course was not a difficult decision to make (apart from needing to settle administrative and logistical issues in my school) because I could “foresee” that this would be the course I would really enjoy and benefit a lot from.  I am devoting a few posts to describe some significant incidents that might represent some of the most memorable experiences I have had from this course.

A solar eclipse that happened in Singapore this year (on 09 March 2016 to be exact) while I was taking this MSc course, was an amazing gift presented to me.  Circling around the solar eclipse theme, in the first MW5202 lesson the class was given simple materials to conduct a demonstration on this astronomical phenomenon.  The class then expended much effort into building up a respectable website that not only enables viewers to understand the science of solar eclipse, but also equips them with essential knowledge to witness the event safely on 09 March.

Despite it being such a rare event, it did not strike me that I was going to do anything related back in school.  Where would the solar viewers be?  Who was going to lend my school telescopes?  How to find time to publicise the event?  All these thoughts were enough to convince myself that my involvement would stop at the website construction and I would just view some spectacular eclipse photos on the front page of The Straits Times on 10 March.  With some envy, maybe.

But then Mr Alfred Tan# whose solar viewing workshop I attended came calling.  He was actively rounding up teachers to promote solar viewing in schools on 09 March.  His passion, coupled with the confidence that I could use the information from our NUS solar eclipse website as backing, once again nudged me into contributing to the school.  I decided then that I would forego solar viewing using telescope, and would instead focus on creating awareness among the school population.  It was already the last week of February when I seek support from my Head of Science Department, but I got it immediately.

My proposal to him was actually rather elaborate.  The whole awareness programme would (ideally) consist of a brief sharing at assembly, display of posters lasting one week, relatively in-depth sharing during science classes (with provided materials), live-streaming of solar view captured using Mr Alfred Tan’s telescope, inviting classes to come out of their classroom to experience the “darkness” when the eclipse was at its maximum, and the playing of an edited post-eclipse video clip.  There was an intention to involve all the physics teachers in doing certain parts of the programme, while keeping their tasks manageable.  However, it was ironic that I could not even manage to distribute the tasks and ended up not executing many of the intended goals.

With my colleagues’ help, I did manage to put together a set of presentation slides, video and animation for sharing of eclipse-related information during an assembly on 08 March.  Thoughts had been put in not just to enable easy understanding by the lower secondary students, but also to include certain points that would cater to the higher ability upper secondary students.  Words were minimised to only the essential, and explanation of concepts had been done using suitable video clip and animation sourced from the Internet.  The effort spent while preparing for the NUS solar eclipse website had been helpful during this round of presentation.

It was rather well-received.  After the assembly, there were students really looking forward to experiencing this rare celestial phenomenon—some were enquiring about the solar viewer, while some were excited by how dark the sky would get.  Teachers on the other hand showed their appreciation—one was happy to learn about new terms (umbra and penumbra); one was telling me her sister currently works at the Singapore Observatory; and the other one was asking where to get 40 solar viewers for her class.

It was quite a mad morning on 09 March.  I was initially thinking of just streaming the live-feed from Mr Alfred Tan’s telescope in the canteen, hopefully that would catch the attention of some passers-by.  I did not quite foresee the huge interest thereafter myself.  When news was spread that the area outside staff room was best for witnessing the solar eclipse, throngs of students and teachers gathered and patiently queued up to pass around two solar viewers.  Many teachers sacrificed their lessons to bring students (and of course themselves) for the solar viewing experience.  It was quite heartening when a number of cleaner aunties and uncles also came around to borrow the (two) solar viewers.

Observing the eagerness in them to view this rare event, I was very glad that I did my small part in raising awareness in school about the science around them.  I was quite sure that the teachers and students who had witnessed the eclipse first-hand would read the front page of The Straits Times with a unique feeling.  For myself, I did manage to catch a few glimpses of the Sun and the Moon that was blocking it— it was my first ever view, and I must say the sight was truly beautiful.

It would have been a more successful event if the decision to conduct the programme was made earlier, more preparation was done and more colleagues could participate during the preparation stage.  I would take that as a valuable lesson that I obtain from this experience.  Nevertheless, I am proud that I have done something good that I would not have imagined doing, before enrolling in this Science Communication MSC course.


# Mr Alfred Tan is currently a vice-principal at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School (Secondary).  He has vast experience and deep passion in the solar viewing as well as the processing of solar images.


Some photos taken in my school on 09 March 2016

Significant portion of the Sun was blocked by the Moon.  The photo shows some dark lines (called the filaments) on the Sun’s surface, which were the regions where hot arcs of plasma (electrified gas) flew in the Sun’s atmosphere.  These electrified gases were not as hot as the Sun’s surface behind them, hence appeared to look darker.

(09 March 2016, 0758 hrs, live-streaming in school canteen)


IMG20160309073005 - Copy

Students standing straight, ready for the National Anthem,
while the live feed of solar eclipse was shown real-time on screen
(09 March 2016, 0730 hrs, school canteen)


A snapshot of the blocked Sun using a solar viewer
to protect my handphone camera
(09 March 2016, 0900 hrs)


Bright spots on the wall were sunlight travelling through spaces
between tree leaves.  These spots had the shape of a crescent,
which was actually the shape of the unblocked part of the Sun.
(09 March 2016, 0902 hrs, outside school admin building)


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