31 Dec, 2020 520 Astronomy

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss solar eclipses, some of life’s most extraordinary moments, when day becomes night and the stars come out before day returns either all too soon or not soon enough, depending on what you understand to be happening. In ancient China, for example, there was a story that a dragon was eating the sun and it had to be scared away by banging pots and pans if the sun were to return. Total lunar eclipses are more frequent and last longer, with a blood moon coloured red like a sunrise or sunset. Both events have created the chance for scientists to learn something remarkable, from the speed of light, to the width of the Atlantic, to the roundness of Earth, to discovering helium and proving Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Carolin Crawford 20 episodes
    Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge
  • Frank Close 15 episodes
    University of Oxford
  • Lucie Green No other episodes
    Mullard Space Science Laboratory at University College London

Reading list

  • Eclipse: Journeys to the Dark Side of the Moon
    Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • Eclipses: What Everyone Needs to Know
    Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2019) Google Books →
  • 15 Million Degrees: A Journey to the Centre of the Sun
    Lucie Green (Viking, 2016) Google Books →
  • Totality: The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024
    Mark Littmann and Fred Espenak (Oxford University Press, 2017) Google Books →
  • Eclipse: The Celestial Phenomenon That Changed the Course of History
    Duncan Steel (Henry Joseph Press, 2001)

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. The experience of a total solar eclipse is one of life's most extraordinary, fleeting and intense moments.