Astronomy: Solar eclipse on Aug. 21 will be ‘amazing’ if at three-quarter coverage

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It won’t be quite as special as the show to the south, but the Great American Eclipse will still grace Southwestern Ontario with an impressive astronomical scene.

A solar eclipse on Aug. 21 will offer a rare celestial view as the moon’s orbit brings it between Earth and its sun, blocking the sun from view.

This region will see a partial eclipse – where the moon covers about three-quarters of the sun – while Americans between Oregon and South Carolina will get the full treatment.

“It’s still an amazing event,” Prof. Jan Cami, director of the Cronyn Observatory at Western University, said of the partial eclipse.

The university is hosting a free viewing party, setting up telescopes on the hill in front of University College to help eclipse-watchers get the best look. It should be visible in London from 1 to 3:40 p.m.

“For pretty much all of the astronomical phenomena that we experience, it’s one of those (rare) moments where you actually see what’s going on,” Cami said. “You see it with your very own eyes.”

Looking directly at the sun is never smart, but staring straight into that orb in hopes of catching the solar eclipse is especially dangerous, Cami said.

Amateur astronomers can pick up a pair of special eclipse glasses at the Western event, which make it safe to watch the solar scene unfold.

Without protection, the strength of the sun can burn straight through retinas and cause permanent eye damage, even blindness, Cami warned.

Londoners can also enjoy the full effects of the Great American Eclipse — dubbed so because this eclipse will be fully visible on land only over the United States — through a live stream broadcast from the “path of totality,” which is the direct swath through the United States where the moon will block the entirety of the sun. 

Cami called the total solar eclipse “the most awesome experience I’ve ever seen.” The temperature drops a few degrees and the sky becomes visibly darker – think twilight – while the sun looks like a glittering diamond, and then a big, black hole.

Most local astronomers are travelling to the United States to get a glimpse of the full effect, Cami added.

In the Cronyn Observatory at Western, a Canada 150 event celebrating the country’s astronomical heritage will be unveiled. The partial solar eclipse will also be projected onto a large screen in the observatory, using the facility’s powerful telescope.

Astronomers can predict the timing of the solar eclipse down to the second, and they expect the show to be visible starting at 1:07 p.m. on Aug. 21 – as long as it’s not raining.

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