Watch the eclipse; step into the past

NASA // Special to Western News

The Hinode Satellite captured this image of a solar eclipse on Jan. 6, 2011. As a much-anticipated solar eclipse will sweep across North America on Monday.

As a much-anticipated solar eclipse prepares to sweep across North America, members of the London community are invited to Western’s campus where they will have an opportunity not only to view this periodic cosmic showcase, but to experience the event as an historical moment that ties into Canada’s history and sesquicentennial celebration.

To the eyes of observers in London on Monday afternoon, the moon will cover up to 75 per cent of the sun. The event will last three hours.

“Eclipses themselves are not terribly important scientifically these days,” said Astronomy professor Jan Cami, Director of the Cronyn Observatory and Associate Director of the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at Western.

“But total eclipses are the only way to study the inner solar corona from the ground. Precise eclipse timings can be used to get better maps of the moon’s surface. Most importantly, they are amazing experiences to share with family and friends.”

Western’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and CPSX, along with the London Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada with support from the London Heritage Council and City of London, are hosting a free and informative opportunity to observe the eclipse.

Starting at 1 p.m. Monday, interested viewers can stop by University College Hill for a safe viewing experience. Visitors can look through telescopes with professional filters (including a special solar telescope), see various ways to safely project the sun’s image, and they can watch a live-stream from the path of totality in the United States.

At 1:07 p.m., the moon will start moving in front of the sun. At first, it will appear as if the moon is ‘taking a bite’ out of it. That bite will grow bigger, until 2:30 p.m., when about three-quarters of the sun will be covered by the moon. Soon afterward, the eclipse will start to reverse. Gradually, more and more of the sun will become exposed until the event concludes by 3:48 p.m.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Community members who come to Western to experience the eclipse will also be able to tour a newly designed 1967 period room in the Cronyn Observatory, designed by Mark Tovey, a postdoctoral fellow in History and CPSX. With support from a Canada 150 grant and a grant from the London Heritage Council, the period room was designed to commemorate Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration. It also offers a historical connection to community members who visit campus to observe the eclipse, Tovey noted.

“A couple of years ago, I designed a 1940s period room in the observatory for (its) 75th anniversary. That room proved to be so popular that it was made into a permanent exhibit. It allows visitors to imagine what it might have been like to step into observatory director H.R. Kingston’s office on Oct. 25th, 1940, when the observatory opened. The new 1967 period room is designed to give visitors the experience of being in the control room of a research observatory circa 1967. The aim is to evoke ‘what the future used to be like,’” he explained.

The 1960s period room is modelled on photographs of Western’s Elginfield Observatory Control Room from the late 1960s and early 1970s and many of the artifacts in the exhibit are originals from Elginfield.

“It gives us a way of celebrating the sesquicentennial, to highlight (history) and make use of some of the equipment that otherwise would never get used again. We are able to highlight the way some things were done back in the day, and to highlight some of the contributions of Canadian astronomers over the last 150 years as well as some of the Canadian institutes that have grown up to help us better understand the universe,” Tovey added.

“Period rooms tend to be really popular with the public; people like that sense of stepping into a space and feeling like they’re back in time. I’m a postdoc in History and CPSX and that gives me a unique vantage point on how to look at the intersection between public history and public astronomy. This combines those two in a unique way and I’m constantly looking at ways to bring public history and public astronomy together.”

Busy on Monday? Don’t worry if you can’t make this eclipse. Mark your calendars for April 8, 2024. That’s when there will be a total solar eclipse nearby – Londoners will only have to travel to St. Thomas, Hamilton or somewhere in between, to see it firsthand. Those who stay in London that day will experience a 97 per cent partial eclipse, but will miss out on 100 per cent of the total eclipse experience.