All fired up to get view of solar eclipse

All fired up to get view of solar eclipse

Amateur astronomer Alfred Tan has loved the mysteries of space since he was a boy.

Now, the vice-principal of Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' School (Secondary) (PLMGS) likes nothing more than sharing his passion. In October last year, he trained fellow educators on the use of solar telescopes, together with partners from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Physics Department, Bendemeer Secondary School and Juying Secondary, in anticipation of what will take place tomorrow.

At about 7.20 am, the moon will begin to pass in front of the sun, casting a shadow that will be viewed as a solar eclipse from Singapore and the region. More than 100 schools will be able to view the uncommon event safely, through a live feed from a telescope at PLMGS.

Mr Tan is excited about being able to use the real-life phenomenon to teach not just science, but also mathematics and the humanities. "I feel that there is a great potential in integrating astronomy into the curriculum. Through hands-on activities, we are able to cultivate greater interest in the students so they are more engaged in the classroom," he said.

A total of 146 eclipses have been or will be seen in Singapore between the year 1700 and 2100.

PLMGS students have been learning to observe the sun through the 11 solar telescopes set up in the school's sky garden since Feb 29. Eight of those belong to Mr Tan himself. Said Melodi Teo, a Secondary 2 student: "I come to the sky garden every recess. Seeing different features of the sun every time has made me very interested in discovering science."

Elsewhere, other schools are also getting fired up about the eclipse. About 1,000 students and 100 staff members from Bendemeer Secondary will be viewing the eclipse as well.

Mr Ng Wee Nghee, 40, head of department (Normal Technical), is overseeing the event. The school has purchased about 300 solar glasses, and made 100 more, so students can protect their eyes from the ultraviolet and infrared light that will pose a danger in viewing the sun with the naked eye.

Five telescopes managed by trained Sec 1 to 3 student volunteers will be set up for the viewing.

"It is rare to be able to view an eclipse with 80 to 90 per cent coverage," said Mr Ng. "Creating the exposure will allow my students to appreciate the Earth and learn more about the universe."

First-time eclipse viewer Muhamad Daniel Rashid, 15, cannot wait for tomorrow morning. "I have a strong interest in astronomy," he said. "To be able to witness this rare occurrence excites me and ignites a burning passion for this field."

At West Spring Primary, Primary 3 pupils will also get a first-hand viewing experience from their school's rooftop through solar-filtered telescopes. Said pupil Isaac Low, nine: "I'm very excited to see the solar eclipse with my friends."

At Nanyang Girls' High School students, Sec 4 students will be doing a presentation on the eclipse and its relevance in culture and science as part of their lessons. They will also be watching the livestream from PLMGS.

Mr Tan said he was encouraged by the uptake of astronomy as a platform for teaching. A total of 104 teachers from 70 primary and secondary schools and junior colleges attended his five workshops.

He said: "Many teachers have interest in using astronomy in the education process, but don't know where to start. My goal is to make it fun, simple and affordable so that all students can benefit."

Members of the public who wish to view the eclipse tomorrow are advised to do so with caution as it is harmful to look at the sun directly without adequate protection.

This article was first published on March 8, 2016.
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