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Valley residents awed by total solar eclipse

The Valley came to a standstill around 2:15 p.m. on April 8, as residents looked to the heavens for the start of a total solar eclipse that plunged the region into momentary darkness while the moon and the sun gloriously combined for a stunning astronomical display.

“I saw a black hole made of fire,” said a young onlooker, who took in the celestial event with his family at a pop-up street party in Elgin. “The best part was the diamond ring,” he added emphatically. “When the light exploded from the shadow of the moon!”

His enthusiasm was matched by fellow Elgin resident and astronomer Pierre Tournay, who organized the event at the corner of the Third Concession and the Wattie Sideroad after the Société d’Astronomie du Planétarium de Montréal’s observation site was deemed too muddy.

 

A crowd of around 120 people gathered in Elgin to watch the total solar eclipse on April 8 including several young sky watchers who took advantage of protective glasses to watch as the moon moved across the sun PHOTO Sarah Rennie

 

“It’s not just viewing, it is really an experience,” said Tournay. “We saw something that was beautiful, and completely unique,” he added, while explaining how each eclipse varies depending on how the sun, the moon and the earth are aligned. Having travelled to witness previous eclipses, he noted the sun’s corona was not as big as he was expecting, but magnificent all the same. “Jupiter and Venus were visible, but Mars and Saturn were hidden in the trees on the horizon,” he added.

Tournay said he was especially pleased to have been able to share the experience with so many neighbours. Around 120 people came to the viewing location, where several telescopes equipped with solar filters were available for people to safely look more closely at the sun’s surface during the partial phases of the eclipse.

The total eclipse started at 3:25 p.m. and lasted for just under three minutes in Elgin. During this time, viewers were able to remove their solar glasses to enjoy the spectacular sight of the moon completely haloed by the sun’s corona. The temperature dropped several degrees as darkness settled in over the fields, while a marvelous sunset was visible along the horizon in all directions. The entire spectacle was over by 4:36 p.m.

The allure of seeing those three minutes of totality were enough to compel Hemmingford-native and astrophysicist Stefan Pelletier to fly in from Switzerland, where he works as a postdoctoral researcher in the astronomy department at the University of Geneva. “I had seen a few partial solar eclipses, but this was my first total one, and what an experience it was,” he said, noting he watched the rare event from his family’s orchard in Hemmingford while surrounded by family and friends who had also travelled for the occasion.

 

A burst of light emerged from the edge of the lunar silhouette to produce the diamond ring effect during the first seconds of the moons movement away from the sun after totality PHOTO Randy Rennie

 

Pelletier graduated from Chateauguay Valley Regional High School in 2009 and went on to McGill and then the Université de Montréal, where he completed his doctoral research on exoplanets in 2023. He said that despite his in-depth knowledge of space, living the experience went beyond his expectations.

“It was amazing to see Jupiter and Venus become visible, and absolutely incredible to see the corona of the sun by eye. We could also see red dots around the moon during totality, which are caused by magnetic activity on the Sun – it was quite spectacular.” Pelletier also noted the drop in temperature, shift in the winds, and changes in the behaviour of dogs and other animals.

Pelletier flew back to Switzerland soon after the eclipse. He explained that while the experience was completely pedagogical for him and did not provide any data for his own research, many other researchers were able to take unique scientific measurements.

The solar eclipse may inspire a new generation to pursue a career in astronomy. This was one of the most-watched eclipses ever, as the 200-kilometre-wide path of totality extended over 14,700 kilometres across some of the most populated cities in North America. The phenomenon started on Mexico’s Pacific coast before moving northeast over more than a dozen states from Texas to Maine, before entering southwestern Ontario, then Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

 

During totality the moon completely covered the sun allowing the suns majestic corona to become visible to the naked eye PHOTO Randy Rennie

 

The next total solar eclipse won’t occur until August 12, 2026, when those in parts of Greenland, Iceland, Spain, Russia, and a small portion of Portugal will be in for a show. A partial eclipse is also expected to be visible in parts of Europe, Africa, and North America at that time.

Eclipse chasers will also have their sights set on North Africa, where astronomers are anticipating more than six minutes of totality will cross over the great pyramids of Egypt on August 2, 2027.

The next time Canadians will be able to see the moon perfectly cover the sun is in 20 years, when a total solar eclipse will pass over the western provinces, including the Northwest Territories and Alberta.

According to NASA, an annular solar eclipse, when the moon only blocks some of the sun’s light, will be visible over Chile and Argentina this October 2. There is currently a movement to send gently used solar eclipse glasses to South America so less fortunate communities there may also experience the thrill of watching such an event.

Locals can bring their glasses to the Earth Day Forum on April 20 at CVR, where organizers are partnering with Quinn Farms and Astronomers Without Borders to ensure the protective glasses will be reused.

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