Interest in astronomy flares ahead of August eclipse


Victoria’s Karun Thanjavur will be hitting the road to get the best view of the total solar eclipse coming to North American skies on Aug. 21.

He and a group of friends plan to camp out on Mount Jefferson in southern Oregon, near Bend, said Thanjavur, a senior astronomy lab instructor at the University of Victoria. It is close to where the eclipse will first be visible on the continent, and a prime viewing point within the “path of totality” — the area where the moon will completely block the sun.

The path of totality for this eclipse is a swath about 113 kilometres wide that extends diagonally across the United States from west to east. Victoria viewers will see about 90 per cent coverage from the eclipse, leaving just a narrow crescent of the sun uncovered.

“Ten per cent of light is still very bright,” Thanjavur said. “Just from looking around you, people may not notice a big dimming.”

National Research Council astronomer Ken Tapping said Thanjavur stands to be part of a large influx of Canadians heading to Oregon, including some from the NRC. Several members of the Victoria chapter of the Royal Astronomy Society of Canada will also be there.

“I gather that every hotel along the path of totality is really, really heavily booked,” Tapping said.

Thanjavur said a solar eclipse happens when the moon is aligned between the Earth and the sun, casting the moon’s shadow onto the Earth’s surface. A total eclipse is quite a spectacle, he said.

“It is very remarkable, just to see the sun completely blocked out.”

Not only does the sky darken, but the temperature drops, something Thanjavur experienced during his first total solar eclipse in Africa in 2001. “Definitely, it feels very much like dusk for a brief period,” he said.

Tapping said that while total solar eclipses happen almost annually around the world, it can be years between occurrences in any given area. The next one visible in the…

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