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Wednesday, August 11, 1999 Published at 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK

On the BBC

BBC Eclipse programmes

By Chris Riley from BBC Science

Special report
Special report
11 August
Seventy-two years ago, only those who had trekked to the North of England witnessed the total eclipse of the Sun. This time around, through television and the Internet, the natural wonder will be watched all over the world.

[ image: Army cadets protect the area around the Astronomer Royal during the 1927 eclipse in Giggleswick]
Army cadets protect the area around the Astronomer Royal during the 1927 eclipse in Giggleswick

There are many astonishing facts and record-breaking statistics accompanying this summer's total eclipse:

  • A hundred kilometre-wide shadow will hurtle across the globe at over 3,000 km/h;
  • It will be the most watched astronomical event in history, with 300 million potential viewers;
  • A massive, million-degree centigrade corona will surround the solar maximum Sun.

Watch First Contact, the BBC's eclipse preview 10 August 1999
But it is not just an astronomical record breaker. The BBC's coverage of the event is equally ground-breaking - twenty cameras, several kilometres of cable, satellite vans, microwave links, hot air balloons, weather satellites, trains, boats and aeroplanes and two years of planning have gone into the preparations.

Only chance

BBC children's programme Blue Peter's eclipse special 10 Aug 1999
Back on the 11 August 1997, BBC Science Executive Producer Phil Dolling was standing on a beach in Cornwall checking out the spot where the BBC will be broadcasting from this year.

[ image: Millions of people who can't see the real thing can watch the eclipse on TV]
Millions of people who can't see the real thing can watch the eclipse on TV
"Nothing can be left to chance," said Phil. "We'll only get one crack at it."

With the wait now nearly over, he knows the magnitude of his task: "This is an unprecedented event in British broadcasting. The last time such an event hit mainland Britain was in 1927. The technology available then was not advanced enough to allow the BBC to cover it live.

"And when the next one crosses Britain in 2090, who knows what technology the BBC will be using? So this could be the one and only chance in history to cover a live eclipse in Britain on television."

Eclipse chase

In a suitably unique link-up, BBC Science, BBC News, BBC Online and the BBC's regional services will join forces to bring the eclipse to the nation across radio, television and the Internet.

[ image: Concordes will chase the eclipse across the globe]
Concordes will chase the eclipse across the globe
From the moment the shadow touches the Earth's surface just off the east coast of North America, three Concordes will be standing by to chase it towards the UK.

From first landfall on the Scilly Isles, across South West England and on towards the Channel Islands, jet black polymer-covered camera lenses will be pointed skywards as the Moon slides silently across the Sun's giant disc.

Finally, a dozen other broadcasters will pursue the shadow towards sunset on the Indian continent.

The greatest view

There may well be a total eclipse somewhere on Earth every 18 months or so, but exactly where the Moon's shadow is projected onto Earth is rather a random affair and it is not always in a very convenient place from which to view it.

This August's eclipse follows an unprecedented trajectory that takes it across highly populated areas.

In three hours, more people will experience the euphoria of totality than during any other eclipse in history. Millions more will watch it on TV and there will not be another which is as photographed, filmed and gaped for many years to come.

"But there's more to an eclipse than gobsmacking statistics", explains Phil Dolling.

"It's all about emotion," he says, recalling the eclipse he witnessed in the Caribbean last year.

"It is people's reactions which will make the event come to life, and it's the millions of individual reactions to the Sun going out in the middle of the day which we want to capture on camera."

Under the weather

However, there is one thing that even the BBC and its two years of planning cannot control - the weather. Cloud is the bane of an eclipse chaser's life.

[ image: Would-be eclipse watchers are hoping for good weather]
Would-be eclipse watchers are hoping for good weather

Among the professional eclipse-chasers will be Professor John Parkinson from Sheffield Hallam University, a veteran of seven eclipses. So far, he has not missed one because of cloud. And he is reasonably optimistic about this one.

"The three days around 11 August have almost all been clear down in Cornwall since 1996," he recalls. "There was only one sea mist day, on 10 August last year and it was strange."

It could turn out that Plymouth has brilliant sunshine and Falmouth just down the coast is under solid cloud. "But you pays your money and takes your choice," Professor Parkinson accepts with a shrug.

Just in case the nightmare comes true and the clouds do roll in on the big day, Professor Parkinson has a secret weapon - his bottle of "Eclipse rum".
"It might not make such gripping telly, but it's something to drown our sorrows in", he says.

Phil, on the other hand, has no plans to turn to the bottle, even if it is cloudy. Thanks to the battery of cameras - ocean-going, airborne and even spaceborne - the BBC will bring the eclipse to the nation whatever the weather.

BBC programmes will be covering the eclipse throughout and, wherever you are, you can always check BBC News Online to find out what is happening.

This list is intended as a guide to programmes, but it is not necessarily complete. Check your local TV and radio guides for more information.

Saturday 31 July

  • Seeing Stars - How to observe an eclipse safely and what amateur and professional astronomers learn from them. BBC World Service Europe/America 08.45 GMT

Sunday 1 August

  • Seeing Stars - (Repeat, see 31/7) BBC World Service Europe/America 00.30/
    Asia 10.45 GMT

Monday 2 August

  • Seeing Stars - (Repeat, see 31/7) BBC World Service Europe/America 15.15/
    Africa 14.30/
    Asia 07.15 GMT

Tuesday 3 August

  • Seeing Stars - (Repeat, see 31/7) BBC World Service Europe/America 19.30 GMT

Wednesday 4 August

  • Seeing Stars - (Repeat, see 31/7) BBC World Service Asia 19.45 GMT

Friday 6 August

  • Cornwall and Devon prepare for the eclipse. BBC News bulletins

Saturday 7 August

  • The Sky At Night - Countdown to the eclipse with Patrick Moore and two astronomers who will be there on the day. BBC2 11.25 BST
  • The Sky At Night - Repeat of last year's programme, which covered the total eclipse over Central America. BBC2 11.45 BST
  • Throughout the weekend there will also be special news reports on the science of the eclipse, what you will see, where to see it, viewing safety and travel information, etc. BBC 1 News, BBC Radio 5live, BBC Radio 4 News, BBC News 24 and BBC World

Sunday 8 August

  • Total Eclipse: Shadow Chasers - BBC 1 19.30 BST
  • The Sky At Night - Countdown to the eclipse repeated. BBC 1 23.40 BST
  • The Users' Guide To The Eclipse - BBC 1 (South, West and South West regions only) 1430 BST

Monday 9 August

  • Health Matters - How the Sun affects our lives, biologically and environmentally. BBC World Service Europe/America 08.35/ 14.05/ 19.05
    Africa 08.05/ 14.05/ 22.30
    Asia 00.05 (S)/ 01.20 (E)/ 14.05/ 21.30 GMT
  • Woman's Hour - 9 - 13 August - The BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour drama in eclipse week is The Eclipse of the Sun - an anthology of stories related to the eclipse. BBC Radio 10.45-11.00 BST daily

Tuesday 10 August

  • Total eclipse: First Contact - A 30-minute special looking forward to the eclipse. BBC 1 20.00 BST.
  • Sun Science - Discovery programme - A portrait of the Sun, how it works and how it reveals its workings during an eclipse. BBC Radio 4 21.00 BST. BBC World Service Europe/America 08.35/ 14.05/ 19.05
    Africa 08.05/ 14.05 / 22.30
    Asia 00.05 (S)/ 01.20 (E)/ 14.05/ 21.30 GMT
  • Blue Peter - BBC children's programme. Pre-eclipse special. BBC 1 17.10 BST
  • Newsround - Children's current affairs programme. Special reports from the West Country. BBC 1 17.00 BST

Wednesday 11 August

  • Total Eclipse Live - Michael Buerk, Philippa Forrester, Jamie Theakston and Patrick Moore host the live coverage of Britain's first mainland, total eclipse since 1927. BBC 1 09.45 BST
  • Total Eclipse Highlights - BBC 1 23.35 BST
  • Spotlight - Evening News for South West UK. BBC 1 (South West region only) 1830 BST
  • BBC World Service will follow the eclipse across the globe on Britain Today, Newsdesk and Outlook
  • BBC Radio 5 Live will follow the event throughout with live reports and updates
  • BBC Radio 1 Roadshow - Live from Marazion Football Ground, Penzance, with Simon Mayo and ZoŽ Ball.
  • Blue Peter - (Repeat, see 10/8) BBC 1 09.15 BST
  • Sun Science - (Repeat, see 10/8) BBC World Service Europe/America 00.30 GMT
  • Eastenders - Eclipse special. BBC 1 19.00 BST
  • BBC News will be bringing you up-to-the-minute reporting across BBC One, BBC News 24, BBC World and BBC News Online.
  • BBC Local Radio services are also providing full coverage of the eclipse. They will be particularly useful for last-minute travel and weather
    BBC Radio Cornwall - 95.2FM
    BBC Radio Devon - 103.4 FM
    BBC Radio Guernsey - 93.2 FM
    BBC Radio Jersey - 88.8 FM
  • BBC Weather forecasts will be coming live from Cornwall and a cruise ship sailing from Portsmouth.

Saturday 14 August

  • The Dark Side of the Sun - BBC 2 (West and South West regions only) 19.40 BST

Sunday 15 August

  • The Sky At Night - Patrick Moore and two leading astronomers reflect on the eclipse and what was learned from it. BBC 1 22.40 BST

Saturday 21 August

  • The Sky At Night - (Repeat, see 15/8) BBC 2 11.25 BST

The 1999 total eclipse can be viewed on 11 August.

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