Two must-see celestial shows will light up the skies over the Americas in the next six months: an annular solar eclipse on Oct. 14 and a total solar eclipse in April, 2024.
“October will be the training wheels for what will occur next April,” explained Peter McMahon, general manager of the Jasper Planetarium. “A total solar eclipse gives you an amazing sense of the three dimensions of the universe. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The biggest star in the sky is gifting Canadians with a total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, when the sun will disappear completely behind the moon.
The eclipse’s path of totality makes landfall in North America from Mazatlan on the Pacific coast across Mexico to Nuevo Laredo, through 13 American states and into eastern Canada including southern Ontario and Quebec, New Brunswick, western PEI, the northern tip of Cape Breton, central Newfoundland and leaving Canada in Gander.
Dr. Jaymie Matthews booked his trip to see next year’s total solar eclipse months ago, and will be immersed in the path of totality in Sherbrooke, Que. The self-described astro-paparazzo, who is also a University of British Columbia professor of astronomy and astrophysics, has already seen multiple eclipses, but he’s excited to experience it again, especially to witness the collective reaction when people gather to watch the sun disappear.
“It gets very quiet, as birds think it’s the end of the day and it gets cold quickly with the absence of the sun’s rays. And you’ll be able to see the moon’s shadow coming towards you. Everyone’s so focused, it’s a wonderful moment,” he said. Matthews is preparing to watch from the ground like most viewers, but there are other options. “You could chase the eclipse on a ship or up in the air on a plane.”
Holland America and Princess Cruises have both announced two solar eclipse cruises for April, 2024, while UnCruise Adventures will offer a seven-day itinerary for 66 passengers and Ring of Fire Expeditions will host a 10-day sailing from Mexico.
But back to next month’s warm-up. An annular eclipse is when a new moon covers 91 per cent of the sun’s centre, creating a “ring of fire” around the moon. In Canada, Vancouver is the closest city to the eclipse path on Saturday, Oct. 14, and should see just more than 80 per cent of the sun covered. (The Jasper Planetarium at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge will host a morning viewing party.) Better views, though, are to be had in the western United States, including huge swathes of Oregon, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas, also eastern Mexico and five countries in Central America, Colombia and Brazil.
In the U.S., many resort areas and campgrounds may already be sold out to view the annular eclipse but travellers could consider joining fellow eclipse enthusiasts at Eclipsefest2023 in Klamath County, Ore., located near Crater Lake National Park; the Ring of Fire Eclipse Festival in Nevada’s White Pine County; or the Texas Eclipse Festival in Burnet, an hour’s drive from Austin. The 51st edition of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta will co-host a viewing party with NASA during the Mass Ascension, when more than 500 hot air balloons are launched.
Utah’s Mighty Five national parks will be in the eclipse’s path, including Moab’s Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. (Bonus: Utah has 24 dark sky parks and places, the most on Earth.) Two bragworthy places to chase the eclipse, if travellers are lucky enough to get a permit, will be the Navajo Nation’s Four Corners Monument, where the state borders of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico intersect and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, with its towering sandstone formations.
Canada gets a better celestial view in April, 2024, with approximately 70 per cent of the country’s population close to or within the path of totality. The last time a region of Canada experienced a solar eclipse was in August, 2008, over part of Nunavut. So now’s the time to start planning for next year’s dark sky event, which hits Canada first in southwestern Ontario – crossing Pelee Island just after 3 p.m.
It then passes the Niagara region, then southeastern Ontario before passing southern Quebec, including the greater Montreal area and the Eastern Townships. Next is New Brunswick’s Miramichi region, then a small northwest corner of Nova Scotia before giving many Newfoundlanders a grand view. Consider a trip to Niagara Falls or Kingston or Montreal. The village of Doaktown on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick is right in the path and is running Sky Experience 2024, a three-day astronomy festival.
Eclipsequebec.ca answers many questions and lists events in southern Quebec where the totality is expected to last 3.5 minutes. The Mont-Mégantic International Dark Sky Reserve, an hour east of Sherbrooke, Que., is planning a big eclipse party, and the Ontario Science Centre, Montreal Science Centre and Halifax Discovery Centre will offer programming about solar eclipses.
For a memorable getaway, Fogo Island Inn will host a solar eclipse weekend, with former NASA aerospace research engineer Dr. Tom Edwards and Bethany Downer, chief science communications officer for ESA/Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes in attendance.
And if you’re thinking, nah, another time? The year 2079 will be the next opportunity to view a total solar eclipse within Canada’s borders. Fingers crossed for clear skies.
If you go
Eclipse travellers can find a place to park themselves next April by checking NASA’s website (among others), which reveals the expected path of the eclipse.
During a total solar eclipse, the only time it’s safe to look into the sky without protective eyewear is when the sun is completely blocked by the moon, which can be as long as three minutes. Before or after total darkness or during any other types of solar eclipses, when any part of the sun is visible, safety glasses are essential to protect your eyes.
Solar eclipse essentials: Check the weather for clear skies, pack protective eyewear, a warm jacket and comfortable clothing, make sure you’ve got a solar filter to protect a digital SLR camera. And consider a tripod and have solar filters for digital SLR camera, mobile phone camera, telescope or binoculars for protection.