Tuesday, 9 April 2019

How to Predict an Eclipse

So how DO you predict an eclipse?  Simples!  You buy a field - a medium size one will do - and some stones.  You then stand the stones up in a particular way so that they will predict eclipses.  Easy innit!  Well, that's how Mike and Carol Green did it, and it was maybe how our Neolithic ancestors did it too.

OK, there are a couple of questions left hanging there.  Who are Mike and Carol Green and what is the "particular way"?  Let's see if we can answer those, shall we?

First, Mike Green and his wife Carol are lovely people who are pretty visible in and around the village of Beer in Devon.  They do all sorts of things, from making sure that tourists have plenty to do when they come here to running voluntary organisations.  And they do interesting things too ... like building a stone circle, sailing across the Atlantic three times, twice in a home-built catamaran and once with their children, that kind of thing.  They are very nice people and we're very proud to call them relations (Mike is Lois' cousin - and Carol and Ian are Mike and Lois' spouses, so I guess that makes us some sort of relation!)

Now the second question ... what is that "particular way" that the stones have to be arranged to make them into a kind of prediction engine?  Best to read Mike's excellent book Eclipse Prediction in Stone-Age Britain: An inquiry into British Neolithic Astronomy & Eclipse Prediction (Green, M. 2015, Twelve Acre Publishing) which you can get via Lulu. Mike's book explains the background to the project - the whys and hows - in a way that we can't possibly do here, so please have a look if you're interested.

We, however, were lucky enough to be taken to the actual field and therefore the actual circle, by the author!

Here are a few pics of the circle and of Mike telling Lois all about it:

  So, in brief, the circle is of 19 stones.  The book goes into a lot of detail about why 19 is an important number to use ... but put simply "it works".  There's a load of maths behind it - and a load of astronomy too - but we'll leave you to discover those for yourselves as you read the book.  As the author puts it, "All in all, I still think the 19-stone circle is the magic one."

Lois (left - looking a little cold) standing at the circle and (right) taking in Mike's explanation of the layout and how it works in practice.  Sadly the day was overcast and we couldn't see the sun, let alone take any measurements using the circle, but we were convinced.   

This shot, which is not very good, shows how one can align the notches on the stones to get a starting point.  It's not easy and getting it right shows a remarkable accuracy.

All in all, then, a day that was enlightening and remarkably sprirtual ... spiritual in our preferred meaning of the word (instilling a sense of awe and wonderment).  Do we think that this stone circle has magical powers?  No, but we could quite undertand how those without a knowledge of maths would find it so.  Similarly, do we believe that this is something special?  Absolutely we do ... and we fully intend to be back here for the Solstace to see how it works then!

And finally, if you're in any doubt about the spirituality of this special place have a look at this photograph, taken by Mike very recently, of the circle in the mist:

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