Undaunted by cloud cover the garden team, inspired by Gilbert White’s interest in celestial phenomena, attempted to use a colander to see the solar eclipse this Friday. Unfortunately the weather was somewhat against us and we had to admit defeat. We did, at least, observe the dimming of the light levels as the moon passed over the sun.
Gilbert White records here his idea of making a heliotrope (a celestial experiment that we have successfully tried at Gilbert White’s House)
Gentlemen who have outlets might contrive make ornament subservient to utility a pleasing eye trap might also contribute to promote an obelisk in a garden or park might both an embellishment and an heliotrope Any person that is curious and enjoys the of a good horizon might with little trouble make two heliotropes the one for the winter the other for the summer solstice and these two erections might be constructed with very little expense for two pieces of timber frame work about ten or twelve feet high and four feet broad at the base and close lined with plank would answer the purpose. The erection for the former should if possible be placed within sight of some window in the common sitting parlour because men at that dead season of the year are usually within doors at the close of the day while that for the latter might be fixed for any given spot in the garden or outlet whence the owner might contemplate in a fine summer’s evening the utmost extent that the sun makes to the northward at the season of the longest days. Now nothing would be necessary but to place these two objects with so much exactness that the westerly limb of the sun at setting might but just clear the winter heliotrope to the west of it on the shortest day and that the whole disc of the sun at the longest day might exactly at setting also clear the summer heliotrope to the north of it by this simple expedient it would soon appear that there is no such thing strictly speaking as a solstice for from the shortest day the owner would every clear evening see the disc advancing at its setting to the westward of the object and from the longest day observe the sun retiring backwards every evening at its setting towards the object westward till in a few nights it would set quite behind it and so by degrees to the west of it for when the sun comes near the summer solstice the whole disc of it would at first set behind the object after a time the northern limb would first appear and so every night gradually more till at length the whole diameter would set northward of it for about three nights but on the middle night of the three sensibly more remote than the former or following When beginning its recess from the summer tropic it would continue more and more to be hidden every night till at length it would descend quite behind the object again and so nightly more and more to the westward.
Gilbert White’s Natural History of selborne
No doubt, in the future, we will try more experiments inspired by Gilbert White, and hopefully we will have more luck with the weather next time!