On Monday, August 21, across the GTA, crowds of thousands gathered under the open sky across North America to witness perhaps a lesser but nonetheless still awe-inspiring sight, a partial solar eclipse.

Dr. John Lester, a professor in the department of chemical and physical sciences was planning a trip to a city in the path of totality for August 21, but was then unable to make the journey. Lester then began organizing an eclipse viewing party for UTM students and sky-observers, bringing his equipment down to the pathway in the middle of Kaneff and Davis, allowing observers to view the eclipse.

The equipment consisted of a few eclipse glasses and two telescopes. One telescope allowed people to reflect the eclipse onto their hands. The other telescope was installed with a filter that reduced the light passing through, allowing people to look at a larger image of the eclipse. Viewers were also encouraged to bring their own pin-hole cameras or other home-made viewing equipment.

Lester commented on how the tables facing Kaneff have holes in them and as the eclipse started taking place, a crescent moon was visible on the ground reflecting the image – exactly the same way that a pinhole camera would do.

A solar eclipse allows scientists to see the outer parts of the sun that are difficult to detect with fine detail and resolution under normal (brighter) conditions, Lester explains. He further describes how the corona of the sun (an aura of plasma that surrounds the sun and other stars) has a temperature higher than the inner surface of the sun and a solar eclipse provides a rare opportunity to obtain data regarding the corona.

Lester noted that although in Mississauga we experienced only seventy percent of the total eclipse, the signs were visible, such as “feeling as if it was a cloudy day with minimal sunlight, a slight cooling in the temperature.”

Lester also mentions how “I think [home made equipment] is great because it shows people that you can experience [the eclipse] without totality – even without high tech equipment.”

Although the viewing party was an enjoyable experience for participating students, Lester feels unfulfilled by viewing a partial eclipse. He says, “I’m told the experience of having the sun go dark – you can feel the temperature drop, animals respond like it’s night […] – it is so unreal that you don’t ever experience anything like that any other way […] it’s like the experience of a lifetime.”

Regarding the solar eclipse predicted to take place across North America in April 2024, Lester says ,“I’ve seen the path, and it certainly comes very close, so it may not actually come right through Mississauga.” Lester further adds how any one wanting to see the eclipse might have to travel to Buffalo or Kingston to get into the path of totality.

“It’s in April, so I hope I don’t have a final exam on that day,” he jokes.

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