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Sun-thing special for Winterton expert

PUBLISHED: 17:03 08 January 2011

Eclipse chaser Martin Stirland in his observatory at Winterton.

Eclipse chaser Martin Stirland in his observatory at Winterton.

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

STARGAZER Martin Stirland has travelled the world to places like China, Africa and Turkey in search of eclipses – but discovered his home village of Winterton was the perfect spot to view and photograph a partial solar one last week.

A couple of minutes of clear viewing gave the 55-year-old the chance to observe the moon passing between the sun and the earth, the first eclipse of 2011 rising over the sea through a curtain of cloud adding an eerie glow.

Although not anything like the coveted “totality” which turns eclipse fans into globe-trotters the retired baker and confectioner said it was rare to see one over water and that at 72pc there was still “quite a chunk” of sun missing.

He said: “I was watching the satellite images all night to see how far I could get within three hours, if it was not clear. But they said there was a chance of the cloud breaking for a gap of two to three minutes and that is what happened. It was lovely to see it coming out of the sea. That was a real spectacle.”

Last year Mr Stirland, his wife Denise and son Ben, 15, travelled to China for a total eclipse – the longest for 200 years at seven minutes, 40 seconds.

And the family are already making plans for a 2017 galactic getaway – when the universe is offering up another totality in America where, in the equivalent move to staking a sunlounger with towel, he has already booked and paid for the equivalent of a front-row seat at one of only two hotels in Ohio which offer pitches closest to the centre line – six years in advance.

“We tried to get to Easter Island this year but it was just mad.

“It was going to cost us £21,000 for four minutes of totality – which was a bit much.

“But when you get a full totality it’s the only time ever you can see the atmosphere around the sun. When you chase eclipses it’s because the cornea changes from day to day. Sometimes it’s spectacular, sometimes it’s nice and quiet.”

At home in Winterton, he has twin observatories where powerful computer-controlled equipment can reveal what even telescopes cannot see using super-cooled cameras and long exposures – even picking out colourful nebulars in Winterton where dark skies are unimpeded by the orange glow of light pollution

His astro-imager hobby fuses a boyhood interest in astronomy and photography that is in high demand and given him a role on BBC2’s Stargazing Live, filming a meteor shower for the programme over nine-and-a-half hours in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, broadcast on Wednesday.

The eclipse was first seen on Tuesday over Jerusalem, where the sun appeared to have taken a large bit out of its upper right section.

In Britain the eclipse had already begun when the sun rose in London at 8.06am, in Manchester at 8.24am and in Glasgow at 8.46am.

The eclipse ended at 9.30am for viewers in the UK and for most people in Britain was nothing to write home about.

The percentage of the sun obscured in the middle of the eclipse varied considerably across the UK, with the South East seeing more than two-thirds obscured while, from the Western Isles, as little as a quarter was covered.

Mr Stirland’s picture was taken from Winterton dunes with a digital SLR fitted with a special filter to enable him to photograph the sun.

He said the heavens provided the best free show anyone was going to get, and that anything that got people look up and out was to be welcomed.

Graeme Rees, of Ormesby, wasn’t quite so lucky with his picture of the eclipse taken at around 8.20am between Britannia Pier and The Jetty in Great Yarmouth.

Although he saw the same weather gap he was unable to view the moon’s shadow which was obscured by cloud at the top of the sun.

Visit Mr Stirland’s website at www.zyworld.com/domehome

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