Canadians across the country will be donning special glasses and looking to the sky to take in a partial solar eclipse today.
Unlike the U.S., Canada won’t see a total solar eclipse, where the moon completely covers the sun, blacking out the sky and turning day into night momentarily.
But Canadians are still in for a celestial show and viewing events are planned across the country, ranging from gatherings at the University of British Columbia to Irving Nature Park in Saint John, N.B.
Jennifer West of the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics explains that a partial eclipse looks like a “huge bite taken out of the sun.”
Victoria is expected to get the best view of the rare celestial event, with 90% of the sun blocked out above the British Columbia capital. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada says Toronto will enjoy 70% coverage, Calgary 77% and Vancouver 86%.
No matter where Canadians take in the event, they’re being cautioned to wear eclipse glasses to prevent serious eye damage.
Maggie Bockus, a retired school teacher in Saint John, N.B., said she expects watching the eclipse will make her feel “humble.”
“You think what you are doing is so important and then you look up and see the sun and the moon,” she said. “You are less than a grain of salt…against this backdrop of majesty and power.”
At Science World in Vancouver, a free event is being hosted on the grass outside the centre where eclipse glasses will be provided and volunteers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada will have solar telescopes, which have a filter that allows viewers to safely look at the sun.
Anyone looking up to the sky in Toronto between 1:10 and 3:49 Monday afternoon — with the right safety glasses, of course — will see a dark shadow obscuring a part of the sun, with the small bit that’s visible appearing as a crescent.
That’s the effect of the solar eclipse that the city will experience.
Select areas in the American south between Oregon to South Carolina will experience a total solar eclipse, but in Toronto only around 70 per cent of the sun will be covered.
“It’s one of the most extreme astronomical events that you will see,” says Matt Russo, a post-doctoral fellow at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics.
“The only reason we can see a total eclipse at all is because of this remarkable cosmic coincidence where the moon appears the same size as the sun on our sky,” said Russo. “But the thing is that the moon is actually getting further away from the earth, so in about six hundred million years there won’t be anymore eclipses.”
“We’re living in a special period where things line up just right for this remarkable event.”
Russo has been waiting 23 years to see an eclipse, since the last total eclipse in Toronto. “I was in school at the time and they didn’t trust us to not stare at the sun so they locked us all inside,” he said.
He’ll experience the event this time around as an astrophysicist and he says eclipses offer valuable opportunities to the scientific world.
“Eclipses give you a unique window to take certain scientific data. For instance, an eclipse was used to prove Einstein’s general relativity in 1919,” said Russo. “When the moon blocks out the sun, you can see the corona of the sun and you can study those patterns more easily from earth-based telescopes.”
The peak coverage of the eclipse will occur in Toronto at around 2:30 p.m.