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N.B. has front-row seat for 'once-in-a-lifetime' total solar eclipse on April 8

A picture taken of another total solar eclipse, this one from Union Glacier, Antarctica, in 2021.  (NASA/YouTube - image credit)
A picture taken of another total solar eclipse, this one from Union Glacier, Antarctica, in 2021. (NASA/YouTube - image credit)

Eclipse enthusiasts are preparing for a big event this spring — and New Brunswick has a front-row seat for it.

The central areas of the province will be in the direct path of a total solar eclipse on April 8.

Fredericton, Woodstock and Miramichi are along the eclipse's "path of totality," where the moon will completely block the sun.

"It's a very big deal," said June MacDonald, president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada — New Brunswick Centre.

While a total solar eclipse can happen somewhere in the world every 12 to 18 months, to have one directly over you is a lot more rare.

"People can see them anywhere on earth, but for it to pass over a particular spot is rare," said MacDonald.

The next one to pass over the Maritimes, for example, won't be until 2079, said MacDonald.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance for most, but for ones who are doing research, they are beyond excited," she said.

For many, it will be their only chance to see a total solar eclipse.

"It's the only one that I'm going to see in my lifetime, and that's what most people experience. If they're lucky enough to see a total solar eclipse, it's going to be the only one."

MacDonald said it can be a "very emotional experience" for some.

"It's such an overwhelming experience. People have cried, they might shout in excitement or they're very quiet, because there's something about the eclipse that is stunning and … it's hard to explain."

The path of totality of April's solar eclipse tracks right across the centre of New Brunswick, with Woodstock, Fredericton and Miramichi directly in its path.
The path of totality of April's solar eclipse tracks right across the centre of New Brunswick, with Woodstock, Fredericton and Miramichi directly in its path.

The path of totality of April's solar eclipse tracks right across the centre of New Brunswick, with Woodstock, Fredericton and Miramichi directly in its path. (timeanddate.com)

MacDonald is hoping for good weather to ensure viewers get the full effect of the eclipse, but even on a cloudy day, "you'll be able to tell because there will still be that dimming effect."

She said there are other effects that will still be felt with overcast conditions.

"The temperature still will probably drop a little bit while the moon shadow is going over, and you'll perhaps note some differences in the animals and the birds.

"It won't be as dramatic, of course, as if it was a sunny day."

MacDonald said there are a lot of people who chase eclipses. She said there are even eclipse tours and cruises.

The prices for those, she said, can be pretty steep.

"We're lucky here in New Brunswick that we will be able to get to see the thing in our own backyard."

3-day EclipseFest planned

Fredericton Capital Region Tourism is expecting thousands of people to visit for "this spectacular phenomenon," said the group's Mary Ellen Hudson, who is also co-chair of a three-day event created around the eclipse.

EclipseFest will feature eclipse-themed exhibits, programs and events leading up to the main event.

On the day of the eclipse, there will be an "eclipse watch party" on Carleton Street, which will include a booth providing free solar-eclipse glasses.

"Our goal is to position Fredericton as a place to visit to experience the total eclipse along with lots of other family friendly events on the weekend leading up to the eclipse on Monday afternoon," said Hudson.

She said the events will include kids workshops, astronomy sessions, star parties and safe-viewing sessions.

Viewing precautions

MacDonald said the society wants to educate people on how to view the eclipse safely, since without protection, looking directly at an eclipse can cause permanent eye damage.

"I know that you can use the number 14 welder's mask, but I mean, who's going to go out and buy a welder's mask for this?"

She said there are specialized eclipse glasses available, but warns people to be careful about fakes that do not provide the required protection.

The key is to look for the label ISO 12312-2.

It indicates "that it's safe, it's been tested and you know that you can use that to look at the eclipse," said MacDonald.

"The thing is, you don't feel it. There's no pain."

The moon passes in front of the sun for a total solar eclipse visible from Farmington, Mo., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017.
The moon passes in front of the sun for a total solar eclipse visible from Farmington, Mo., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017.

The moon passes in front of the sun for a total solar eclipse visible from Farmington, Mo., Aug. 21, 2017. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via The Associated Press)

She said the damage may not be noticeable until 24 to 48 hours afterward.

"And most times, it's not permanent, but it can be. But you won't know it right away."

According to calculations by timeanddate.com, the partial eclipse will begin in Fredericton at 3:24 p.m., on April 8, as the moon first touches the edge of the sun. This is known as "first contact."

Totality begins at 4:33 p.m. — the moment at which the moon covers all of the sun.

Maximum eclipse will be just before 4:35 p.m. and is considered "the deepest point of the eclipse, with the sun at its most hidden."

Totality ends at 4:36, while the partial eclipse will end just before 5:42 p.m.

With Moncton and Saint John just outside the path of totality, MacDonald said both cities will only experience about 98 per cent coverage of the sun.