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Just right moon

Celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime solar event

Campus and Community

By Claire Carter

Memorial University experts want to help you make the most out of the upcoming solar eclipse.

A map of the solar eclipse's path of totality over the eastern U.S., Atlantic Canada and Newfoundland.
The path of totality of the April 8 solar eclipse.
Photo: University of Toronto Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics

Solar eclipses are rare celestial phenomena that occur when the moon goes in front of the sun, blocking it out.

In the short moments of totality, you may experience a 360-degree sunset effect, the temperature may drop and you can see stars, planets and the solar corona.

Dr. Hilding Neilson, an astrophysicist and an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Faculty of Science, says when all the light from the sun is blocked out, you can see dim light surrounding the moon from the corona and that the corona tells us about solar activity, space weather and sunspots.

“This phenomenon not only tells us about some high-energy phenomena, but also allows us to leap from our sun to better understand other stars,” he said. “We’re very lucky because the Earth is the only place in the solar system where you can actually see a total solar eclipse. In any other place in the solar system, their moons are either too big or too small, but our moon is just right.”

Eclipses can be accurately predicted up to thousands of years into the future because the Earth’s and the moon’s orbit are so well defined.

First in 50 years

On April 8, the island of Newfoundland will witness the first total solar eclipse since 1970.

Totality will be observed eastward from Channel-Port-aux-Basques, Stephenville, through Gander and up to Bonavista.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.” — Kate Murphy

St. John’s and Corner Brook will experience a partial eclipse, with about 99 per cent of the sun’s light being obscured.

“This eclipse is a significant event in Newfoundland because it is very rare,” said Kate Murphy, a science interpreter at the Johnson Geo Centre. “Some parts of Newfoundland will experience a total solar eclipse, and the next time any region in Newfoundland will see totality will be May 1, 2079. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.”

As we enjoy the celestial show, safety remains important.

Never stare directly at the sun without eye protection. When observing the eclipse, use solar eclipse glasses or viewers compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international standard, ensuring lenses are free of scratches and tears.

A black orb with a golden fiery corona.
An image of a total solar eclipse.
Photo: Submitted

If you are in the path of totality, there is a 2-3 minute window where the sun and moon will line up perfectly and you can safely remove your eye protection.

Be aware of the time, and put the glasses back on as the moon moves away from the sun. However, in areas experiencing a partial eclipse, there is no safe time to look at the sun without eye protection.

Those without protective eyewear can indirectly view the eclipse with a pinhole camera, cereal box viewer or a slotted spoon or colander. If observing a projection, stand with your back to the sun. If you plan to take photos, have a special solar lens so you do not burn out your camera.

Attendees of events at the Geo Centre or in Gander should arrive early and prepare for potentially cold, wet weather. If you’re watching with a group of people, avoid pointing directly at the sun, as others may inadvertently follow your finger.

“[Students] may have thought that these areas were closed off to them . . . but now they can have that mentoring experience and grow here.” — Dr. Terrence Tricco

Dr. Neilson and Dr. Terrence Tricco, a computational astrophysicist and assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Science, are part of a growing group of space researchers at Memorial University, bringing a research presence in astronomy and astrophysics to the Faculty of Science and the university.

“Students are interested in space, astronomy, and astrophysics,” said Dr. Tricco. “They may have thought that these areas were closed off to them before because they didn’t have exposure to it, but now they can have that mentoring experience and grow here.”

Event details

Dr. Neilson will observe the full solar eclipse in Gander, where the Solar Eclipse Soiree, a large science festival, begins Friday evening and includes events for all ages. Find details here.

Ms. Murphy and Dr. Tricco will celebrate in St. John’s at the Johnson Geo Centre with the Sun Block Party, an indoor and outdoor event with high-tech telescopes, music, solar-themed crafts, activities and live broadcasts. The Johnson Geo Centre is also organizing a bus to Gander. Find details here.

Solar viewing glasses will be available at each event on a first-come basis. The Johnson Geo Centre will offer one pair of viewing glasses per family with admission.

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