Although the total solar eclipse isn’t set to take place in Niagara for nearly two months, Brock University Assistant Professor of Physics Barak Shoshany is encouraging people to begin preparing now for the astronomical phenomenon.
On Monday, April 8, a total solar eclipse will take place over southern Ontario, with the moon passing between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the sun completely for a short period of time.
Shoshany, a member of the Ontario Eclipse Task Force, says the “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to witness the celestial spectacle is expected to bring an influx of visitors to the region.
"It’s a very rare thing to see,” he says. “Usually, people have to travel to the other side of the planet if they want to see a total solar eclipse.”
The theoretical physicist, who studies general relativity and teaches physics and astronomy at Brock, says that while a total solar eclipse takes place roughly every 18 months, it rarely happens close to Niagara. The total solar eclipse occurred over Ontario in 1979, and the next one won’t happen again over the province until 2099.
A total solar eclipse happens in areas of the planet within the “path of totality,” or the path of the moon’s umbra, which is the innermost and darkest part of the moon’s shadow. The Niagara region is within this path.
St. Catharines will experience a total solar eclipse from 3:18 p.m. to 3:21 p.m. on April 8. The maximum eclipse, when the moon is closest to the centre of the sun, will take place at 3:19 p.m.
Shoshany says people should prepare now to watch the eclipse safely by purchasing certified eclipse glasses through a verified distributor or plan to project the image of the eclipse on a white piece of paper using a pinhole projector.
“Using these methods, it should be 100 per cent safe to watch the entire eclipse,” he says. “During the precious few minutes of totality itself, when the moon completely covers the sun, it is safe to watch the eclipse directly, but care must be taken to return to safe viewing methods as soon as totality ends."
Looking directly at the sun can cause permanent eye damage. During the solar eclipse, the sun will be much less bright than usual, but still just as dangerous. Looking at the sun through sunglasses, binoculars, telescopes or optical camera viewfinders is also dangerous, unless they are covered with professional solar filters.
The best way to view the eclipse is to attend an official eclipse event led by experts, such as the one that will take place at Brock University, Shoshany says.
Visitors to Brock’s solar eclipse event — details of which will be announced soon — will receive free certified glasses to view the eclipse safely, with experienced faculty and staff also on site to discuss the phenomenon. Several educational sessions will also be held that day on related topics in biology, chemistry, computer science, physics and more.