The solar eclipse is almost here, York!

(Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash)

Solar eclipses are a rare event, especially for Canadians. The last total eclipse sighted in Canada was on August 1, 2008 in northern Nunavut. But for Ontarians, the last solar eclipse visible in the province was on February 26, 1979. Now, for the first time in decades, people around Ontario and a few other provinces will be able to see the solar eclipse in its entirety, with some regions experiencing the eclipse’s totality.

“A solar eclipse occurs when the moon travels between the sun and the earth,” says Professor Elaina Hyde, director of the Allan I. Carswell Observatory (AICO) at York. “Since the moon is around 400 times smaller in diameter than the sun, and coincidentally about 400 times closer to Earth, they just happen to be about the same angular size in the sky.

“To actually see a solar eclipse is often a challenge since the tiny moon casts its shadow only on a small part of Earth.”

(Courtesy of Allan I. Carswell Astronomical Observatory)

Unfortunately, York students won’t be able to see the total solar eclipse from campus. The path of totality will pass through southern Ontario, specifically in Hamilton and the Niagara region, but not through Toronto, where a partial eclipse will occur at 99.6 percent. Nevertheless, a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse taking place in the GTA is sure to garner wonder from many around the world.

“I know it’s going to be a very exciting event for many people,” says George Proussalieis, a fourth-year business economics student. “It might be something that I’ll take a look at as it’s occurring. Not sure how much of it I’ll see.”

“Though I’m not interested, I have my roommates traveling to Niagara to watch the eclipse. I’ll probably join them,” adds Divya Krishne Towta, a human resources post-graduate.

Millions of people on the day of the eclipse will be expected to descend on Hamilton, Niagara Falls, or surrounding regions to see the eclipse’s totality. These large crowds prompted the Niagara region to declare a state of emergency on March 28 as a precautionary measure to “safeguard the health and safety of residents and visitors.” Tourists in these areas are highly advised to be mindful while traveling, especially while driving in these conditions. 

“I recommend checking the traffic and trains before departure, as well as making sure that you will actually get totality by checking an eclipse map,” states Hyde.

(Courtesy of Allan I. Carswell Astronomical Observatory)

Because of the large crowds expected to see the eclipse, some students are choosing to stay home and not travel.

“There’s been a lot of hype about it, especially with the Niagara area declaring a state of emergency, with the amount of demand and attention that they’re going to have,” says Proussaleis. 

For those who do plan on seeing the solar eclipse in-person, Professor Hyde strongly emphasizes that it is never safe to look directly at the sun during the eclipse. Although solar eclipses can be fantastic, they can be highly dangerous if stared at directly.

“This includes during a partial eclipse, even at a 99 per cent partial eclipse area,” Hyde explains. “A pinhole camera diagram, as well as a box viewer diagram, can be found on our website for those who want to create something to bring with them. When looking for solar filters, you must get ISO safety rated solar filters or solar viewing glasses. Normal sunglasses will not protect your eyes. Viewing the sun directly can permanently damage or even blind you anytime.”

(Courtesy of Allan I. Carswell Astronomical Observatory)

In addition, experts say you should never look at the sun using telescopes, binoculars, or cameras, even with solar filters and eclipse glasses on, as this will cause immediate and severe ocular damage. 

You should also protect your skin from being in the sun for too long if you’re planning to watch the eclipse for a long time. Sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing are recommended to prevent skin damage.

Viewing the eclipse using indirect means is often the best way to keep yourself safe during the event. You can also view the solar eclipse from livestreams on the Internet or on TV. There are a number of solar filters, sunglasses, and other products that are available for purchase from various retailers, a list of which can be found here

If you’re planning on taking photos of the eclipse using a smartphone, some general tips are to turn off flash before totality and to disable any zooming on your camera. Use a super wide-angle, or portrait mode, to capture the eclipse, and lock focus and use burst mode to capture totality. Use the highest image-quality setting such as RAW during totality, and shoot any videos with a tripod. Ensure your battery is fully charged before taking pictures of the eclipse, and that you have enough memory space on your phone.

For those who won’t be able to travel away on the day of the eclipse, Professor Hyde states that Allan I. Carswell Observatory will be hosting an event to observe the solar eclipse on April 8.

“Since there is no totality at York University, the Allan I. Carswell Observatory is only running a small set of solar viewings for York students, faculty, and staff who cannot get away on the day. If you are stuck in the partial eclipse area, consider going up to the top of the Arboretum parking garage on April 8 between 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.”

Hyde also mentions there will be a small station passing out safe solar viewers near York University subway station on April 8 while supplies last.

“I am glad that we have options for York students to have a safe and informed viewing of the eclipse,” says Htet Min Lwin, a third-year humanities PhD student, who is planning to stay on York’s campus during the eclipse. 

“I am excited that things such as eclipse glasses and also solar viewing opportunities will be provided by the telescopes that are at the observatory. I have never seen or come to anything like this in my life.” 

According to Hyde, this particular solar eclipse is the closest eclipse most Ontarians are going to see in their lifetimes, which won’t occur any other time in Ontario afterwards until 2099.

For more information about the eclipse, including additional resources and blogs from professors, see this post by AICO.

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By Nabneel Sarma


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