KPU preparing for rare sighting of annular solar eclipse

Wed, Oct 4, 2023

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) instructors are preparing to celebrate a rare celestial occurrence that will offer Lower Mainland skywatchers some of the best views in Canada.

On the morning of Oct. 14, an annular solar eclipse will cross North, Central, and South America. Although its path of totality over North America is limited to the U.S. – from Oregon through to Texas – the best views from Canada of the moon as it passes between the Earth and the sun will be in western British Columbia.

To celebrate, KPU Faculty of Science instructors are organizing a free public eclipse viewing event in Richmond beginning at 8 a.m. Guests can safely view the eclipse with telescopes and other equipment, and check out displays and activities about our solar system.

The KPU Solar Eclipse Party 2023 is for everyone – particularly school-aged children in the community, says organizer and physics instructor Laura Flinn.

“Kids may not realize how close science is to them,” she says. “This is an event that a large section of North America will be able to see. It’s a significant astronomical phenomenon that will give children a sense of how big the universe is.”

Between two and five eclipses occur each year, but only those along the path of an eclipse are able to see it. That makes such events rare to see in person. Flinn examined data beginning from the year 1900 and could only find records of partial eclipses visible in the Lower Mainland, events similar to what the region experienced in August 2017.

A complete annular eclipse, however, will occur over our region on Aug. 4, 2111, says Flinn.

“The statistical average for how often a total solar eclipse occurs at one location on the Earth is once every 375 years,” says Flinn. “So to see even a partial eclipse again in six years – with more than 75 per cent of the sun covered – is not too bad, statistically speaking.”

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is at or near its farthest point from Earth. As it passes between the Earth and the sun, the moon casts a shadow on the Earth. At maximum eclipse, the moon appears smaller than the sun, so that the outer edges of the sun are visible, creating a ring of light – an annulus – in the sky.

KPU Farm, located next to the university’s Richmond campus, will host the viewing event. Flinn says the location is ideal to see the eclipse, which will appear in the Lower Mainland between 8:08 and 10:38 a.m., with approximately 76 per cent of the sun obscured during the period of maximum eclipse at 9:20 a.m.

“We’ll be heading into fall, and the sun is close to the horizon at that time in the morning. From the KPU Farm, when we’re looking toward the southeast, we’ll get an unobstructed view of the eclipse.”

Looking directly at an eclipse without appropriate eye protection can cause serious eye damage, so special solar viewing glasses will be available for the first 250 guests. Additional safe viewing equipment will also be available, and viewers can also bring their own – such as a home-built eclipse projector.

The KPU Solar Eclipse Party 2023 takes place Oct. 14 from 8 to 10:30 a.m. at KPU Farm. Parking will be available nearby at KPU Richmond, 8771 Lansdowne Rd. Rain will move the party inside the university campus, where a livestream will be shown.

Admission is free, but guests are asked to pre-register.