The Great North American Eclipse

Parshati Patel
15 August 2017

Above: Image © sdecoret, istockphoto.com

August 21, 2017 will present us with a very special astronomical event all over Canada - a solar eclipse. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is between the Moon and its source of light (that is, the Sun).

Solar eclipse
S. Habbal, M. Druckmüller and P. Aniol (Public Domain).

During a solar eclipse, in places where the Moon completely covers the Sun, the Moon’s shadow is projected onto a very small area on Earth. This is called the path of totality. The eclipse on August 21 is considered “The Great North American Eclipse” because the path of totality will pass through 10 U.S. states. A partial eclipse occurs in places where the Moon covers a portion of the sun. On August 21, the partial eclipse will also be visible in several North American countries including Canada. In Canada, the Moon will be covering anywhere from 11% to 89% of the Sun! Check out the details of the eclipse in your location here.

See the solar eclipse safely

Looking directly at the Sun is never a good idea - doing this can damage your eyes. However, there are safe ways to enjoy the eclipse. Here are the safest ways:

  1. Eclipse glasses: Eclipse glasses are designed with special filters which allow you to safely view the Sun. It is important that you follow the guidelines on the glasses. See Figure 1 for an example of the glasses and how to use them. Be sure to check that the eclipse glasses do not have any scratches, cracks or damage. If you are in doubt, do not use the glasses. Fake glasses have been flooding the market recently, so make sure to purchase your eclipse glasses from a reputable vendor. You can find a list here.
  2. Solar eclipse glasses
    Figure 1(a): An example of eclipse glasses.
    young man demostrating putting on glasses
    Figure 1(b): Look down at the ground and put your glasses on as seen in the image.
    young man demostrating using glasses
    Figure 1(c): Look up at the sun while holding your glasses in place as seen in right image. To remove the glasses, look down again before removing them.
  3. Pinhole Camera: The easiest DIY option is a small pinhole camera (there are more complicated versions of a pinhole camera you can make, as well). This is a great activity to do with children to get ready for the eclipse. All you need is one white cardstock paper, one cardboard piece (5 inch x 5 inch, or 12.7 cm x 12.7 cm), a small piece of aluminum foil, a cutter (or x-acto© knife), a roll of clear tape and a push pin. Follow the steps shown in the Figure 2 to create your own and arrange the camera to view the sun.
  4. Solar eclipse glasses
    Figure 2(a): Cut out a 2 cm x 2 cm square piece at the center for the cardboard.
    Solar eclipse glasses
    Figure 2 (b): Cut foil paper into a 5 cm x 5 cm square, place it over the square in the cardboard and tape it down with clear tape.
    Solar eclipse glasses
    Figure 2 (c): Using a push pin, poke a hole in the foil (make sure to do it gently).
    Solar eclipse glasses
    Figure 2(d): Your pinhole camera is now ready to use.
    Solar eclipse glasses
    Figure 2(e): Project the Sun on to the white cardstock paper by placing the pinhole camera between the Sun and the cardstock paper. You can adjust the distance between the pinhole camera and the cardstock paper to get a sharp image.

    You can get creative and make shapes, words or even art for the pinhole cameras. Here are some examples:

    Canadian flag drawn on paper
    Canadian flag with light shown through
    Canadian Space Agency logo drawn on paper
  5. Solar Telescopes: Want to look at the sun up close during the eclipse? Solar telescopes or telescopes with solar filters are the best choice. If you own a telescope, consider buying a solar filter. If you do not own a telescope, events are planned across Canada to view the partial eclipse. Here are some of the events planned in Canadian cities:

Toronto

University of Toronto
Location: Canadian National Exhibition
Time: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Website: http://www.universe.utoronto.ca/events/solar-eclipse-at-the-cne/

Ontario Science Centre
Location: TELUSCAPE, outside the Main Entrance
Time: 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Website: https://www.ontariosciencecentre.ca/Calendar/354/

York University
Location: Lions Stadium at York University
Time: 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Website: http://science.yorku.ca/research_news/solar-fair/

London

Western University
Location: Hume Cronyn Memorial Observatory
Time: 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Website: http://physics.uwo.ca/outreach/cronyn/solar_eclipse_of_august_21_2017.html

Montreal

Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Location: Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Time: 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM
Website: https://ingeniumcanada.org/aviation/whats-on/event-partial-solar-eclipse.php

Vancouver

Science World
Location: Telus World of Science
Time: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Website: https://www.scienceworld.ca/solar-eclipse-2017

If your hometown is not on the list, make sure to contact the local museum, science and astronomy organizations or local chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

You can also watch a live view of the eclipse from various places around the world. NASA will be providing a live view on various platforms. Check them out here: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-live-stream

Photos in figures 1(a) through 2 (h) were taken and provided by Parshati Patel for use on CurioCity.

Parshati Patel

I am the Outreach Coordinator for the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at Western University. I graduated with a PhD in Astronomy and Planetary Science and Exploration from Western University in 2016. During my graduate studies, I had several opportunities to spend a lot of time talking to the public as well as students through various programs at Western's Cronyn Observatory and CPSX. In addition, I have also been involved in CPSX's space themed podcast 'Western Worlds' since its inception in 2012. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, roller skating and learning photography (especially night sky photography).