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‘Astronomical lightshow’

Solar Eclipse Year: save the date for April 8, 2024

By Dr. Hilding Neilson

Next year, 2024, is Solar Eclipse Year.

A bird's eye view of a map of Mexico-U.S.-Canada with a line through it indicating the viewing path of the 2024 solar eclipse

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible from the south Pacific Ocean, northern Mexico, across the U.S. and through the Atlantic provinces of Canada.

More importantly, the total solar eclipse will be visible from southwestern Newfoundland, in the areas of Stephenville and across central Newfoundland through Terra Nova Park and Gander.

A partial eclipse will be visible across the province, with St. John’s and Corner Brook just outside the range of a total eclipse, an 80 per cent eclipse in Labrador City and a 70 per cent eclipse in Nain.

The 2024 solar eclipse will be the first eclipse crossing the province since 1970 and the only one until 2079.

For many, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event to see a total solar eclipse in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Solar eclipses are special events in many cultures and have allowed scientists to make great discoveries.”

We are fortunate to even be able to observe a solar eclipse.

The Earth is the only place in our solar system where there is a moon that is about the same size in the sky (0.5 degree) as the sun.

Solar eclipses are special events in many cultures and have allowed scientists to make great discoveries.

When the moon passes in front of the sun, most of the light is blocked and we can see the sun’s corona (more about the corona below).

A note: make sure to wear appropriate eye protection during an eclipse to look at the sun.

A composite image of the sun during a solar eclipse, showing the sun from left to right with a partial block of light all the way through a complete block of light and then continuing to a clear view.
This composite image of 13 photographs shows the progression of a total solar eclipse, from right to left, at Madras High School in Madras, Oregon on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017.
Photo: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The late Dr. Jay Pasachoff, an American astronomer, was so inspired by solar eclipses that he chased them around the world to experience more than 70 eclipses in about 50 years.

In a New York Times 2010 op-ed, he wrote: “There’s also the primal thrill this astronomical lightshow always brings the perfect alignment, in solemn darkness, of the celestial bodies that mean most to us.”

There is the thrill of observing solar eclipses and there is the thrilling science of them, too.

Thanks to solar eclipses, we learn about the sun’s corona, a thin layer of plasma that is just above the sun’s surface.

We normally can’t see it because it is so thin and has such a small density, but the temperature of the corona is about one million degrees Celsius.

It is believed that the corona is related to the sun’s magnetic field and to things like solar flares and mass ejections.

These flares and mass ejections impact the Earth through space weather and the aurorae — phenomena that those of us in the Northern Hemisphere recognize as the Northern Lights.

Scientific discovery

And it’s not just the sun.

Solar eclipses were important to provide some of the early evidence of Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.

Einstein predicted that light is bent by the gravity of stars.

So, if we can see stars behind the sun, they will appear to be in a slightly different location in the sky relative to each other than when we see them normally.

In 1919 scientists observed stars behind the sun that became visible during a solar eclipse and found that, indeed, their observations agreed with Einstein’s theory.

Town of Gander a major partner

Solar eclipses are fantastic events that connect humans to nature, celestial bodies and to the universe.

Next year’s celebration is an opportunity to celebrate science, nature and humanity.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and excitement of its staff and council, Prof. Svetlana Barkanova, Department of Physics, Grenfell Campus, and I are partnering with the Town of Gander to host a solar eclipse viewing party on April 8, 2024, and a science festival in the days before the eclipse.

The sun is shown in black with a sliver of light showing on the top right side during a solar eclipse.
Some prominences are seen as the moon begins to move off the sun during the total solar eclipse on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 above Madras, Oregon.
Photo: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The town is excited to be a major partner bringing people from across Newfoundland and Labrador to learn, discover and experience a total solar eclipse together.

The town has pledged to develop a budget to assist with the costs of this unique science festival, along with providing facilities, viewing sites and in-kind assistance.

The event is being planned in collaboration with a continuing science and community outreach program led by Prof. Barkanova and her team.

They deliver a large-scale scientific and cultural outreach program for youth in our province, especially rural youth, girls and Indigenous students, and is currently developing in-person and online seminars and workshops leading up to the solar eclipse.

“It is an ideal chance for us at Memorial to do what we do best — share what is great about our fields.”

This is a call to faculty, students and staff at Memorial University across all campuses to join in the celebration and help it grow and expand.

Not only will we have the opportunity to experience an amazing celestial event, it is a chance to come together in central Newfoundland and share the stories of what we do at Memorial from how we understand the sun and moon in astrophysics, in cultures, in literatures, in humanities and so on.

This is a call to action for your involvement; more participating colleagues means more public talks, Science on Tap events, outreach in schools and more.

It is an ideal chance for us at Memorial to do what we do best — share what is great about our fields and do so around this rare event in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Come join in for Solar Eclipse Year 2024 in Gander. Contact me via email.

Co-authored by Dr. Svetlana Barkanova, Department of Physics, Grenfell Campus, and Brian Williams, tourism development officer, Town of Gander.


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