A 21st Century ‘wizard’ has conjured up this remarkable ‘Solar Eye’ device which uses fixed crystal balls to accurately plot the Equinox.
Top blacksmith Pete Smith took two years of trial and error to perfect his ‘solar sun dial’ which optically traces the relationship between the sun and earth.
The hand-crafted Solar Eye – two spheres of optical quality glass mounted on a brass cradle – not only predicts the precise timing of the equinox, but shows how the sun’s zenith, or highest point, changes throughout the year.
It also reveals when the Full Moon is at its zenith and can also be used as simple sun dial.
An equinox occurs twice a year when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun.
Pete, one of the country’s top blacksmiths, lectures at the renowned National School of Blacksmithing at Holme Lacy near Hereford.
He said: “The Solar Eye uses two optically corrected glass balls, one clear, one coloured, which are aligned so that the point of coloured light thrown by the smaller sphere tracks in the same lateral direction as the sun.
“At the same time the clear optical ball throws a larger shadow which tracks on the ground in the opposite way so at the equinox the shadow is eclipsed by the coloured light.
“I was born on the autumn equinox in 1952 so I suppose that’s where my life-long fascination with astronomy must have started.
“About two years ago I had the notion that I could chart the passage of earth and the sun by mounting two spheres of optical quality glass.
“It led to a lot of trial and error as I forged the metal mounts to hold the glass spheres and I had a lot of broken glass in my forge as the metal shrank to tight and cracked them.
“The tolerances were tiny but in the end I worked it out and discovered my idea might just work.
“The large outdoor version is made in bronze which is really quite expensive, but it is designed to weather and would sell for about £2,000, the tiny versions cost around £30.”
The optical specifications of the Solar Eye are so intricate that Pete sets up individual devices for different latitudes on the globe by using post codes or Google.
Pete, from Presteigne, Powys, added: “I can set them up for different latitudes by post code, so one for Cornwall would be a slightly different shape to one set for Orkney.
“People say they find them pleasing to the eye which, as craftsman, is very much part of what I want to achieve and I strive to make things that are simple but beautiful.
“At the moment I’m experimenting with a more sophisticated device that will mimic the set-up of Stonehenge and predict eclipses.”
Pete is one of only eleven ‘Licentiates’ honoured by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths and his more conventional masterpieces include the entrance gates for Hereford Cathedral.
He has completed projects and restoration work for most of the national heritage organisations including English Heritage, the National Trust and Heritage Scotland.
His installation art pieces include a 40 foot long metal Loch Ness Monster and a metal and cheese cloth replica of Stonehenge on a by-pass roundabout.