JON CUL­SHAW

Jon’s off-world trav­el­ogue con­tin­ues.

Sky at Night Magazine - - IN THE MAGAZINE - Jon Cul­shaw is a co­me­dian, im­pres­sion­ist and guest on The Sky at Night

As 20 March ap­proaches I find my­self think­ing more and more about pris­tine, clear skies for na­ture’s most spec­tac­u­lar sight, the to­tal so­lar eclipse that will be vis­i­ble from the Faroe Is­lands.

I vividly re­mem­ber the eclipse of 11 Au­gust 1999, seen from a ferry on the English Chan­nel. There were suf­fi­cient cloud gaps to fuel op­ti­mism about a spec­tac­u­lar view. BBC weather pre­sen­ters gave com­men­tary over the Tan­noy about where the ship was steer­ing to find gaps in the clouds, while Uri Geller moved among the pas­sen­gers talk­ing about ‘The En­er­gies’.

I’ll never for­get the strange, steel-grey twi­light that en­veloped us shortly be­fore to­tal­ity: a unique, mono­chrome dusk with a weird sil­very glow, which only im­pend­ing to­tal­ity could cre­ate. As Pa­trick Moore might say, “It was frankly... eerie.”

So, keep­ing our vi­sions pro­found on th­ese ex­cur­sions, I’m go­ing to see a red gi­ant star eclipsed by a great gas gi­ant. My des­ti­na­tion is HD 208527, a red gi­ant that lies some 1,044 lightyears from Earth in the con­stel­la­tion of Pe­ga­sus. The gas gi­ant or­bit­ing it bears the name HD 208527b, but I’m go­ing to name it ‘Jupi­deci’ – af­ter all, it does have a mass of around 10 times that of Jupiter.

Jupi­deci sits 2.1AU away from its par­ent star – quite pos­si­bly nes­tled within its hab­it­able zone – and takes about 876 days to com­plete an or­bit. Any Moons or­bit­ing this world may well pos­sess liq­uid wa­ter and the pos­si­bil­ity of life. The red­ness of the star it­self is rem­i­nis­cent of ob­serv­ing our Sun in hy­dro­gen-al­pha.

As the dark disc of Jupi­deci ad­vances to ob­scure its par­ent red gi­ant, my an­tic­i­pa­tion of wit­ness­ing an alien eclipse is be­yond pal­pa­ble. In the mo­ments lead­ing to exo-to­tal­ity, the thinnest cres­cent with a smoul­der­ing ochre glow pul­sates against the solid black­ness of space. The red gi­ant eclipse hangs in this alien skyscape like a sickle freshly re­moved from a black­smith’s forge. Sens­ing the scale of the ob­jects in­volved, to­tal­ity ar­rives with the surety of a mas­sive ocean ves­sel stead­fastly oc­cu­py­ing its place in dock.

The sight is ut­terly mag­nif­i­cent. Un­like so­lar eclipses vis­i­ble from Earth, which have a solid black in­ner out­line, the black disc here has a softer, blurry edge. The outer lay­ers of the gas gi­ant al­low a lit­tle of the red gi­ant’s light to shim­mer through. It’s a charm­ing nu­ance of this eclipse.

The black­ness of the Jupi­deci disc is sur­rounded by a halo glow­ing the deep­est or­ange shade of vol­canic magma. It’s sim­i­lar to our Sun’s corona but with a softer, less fil­a­mented struc­ture. It brings a sense of be­ing bathed in the cosy glow of a Vic­to­rian fire­place on a cos­mic scale. If the Cruise Globe’s ro­botic arms were able to stretch out far enough, I’d be tempted to stick a slice of bread on the end for some space toast.

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