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Cloud cover will likely spoil the eclipse viewing party in Metro Vancouver

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While parts of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada are preparing for a rare opportunity to view a total solar eclipse on Monday, a partial eclipse will be happening in the skies above Metro Vancouver.

“If you are slightly outside the path of totality, then the moon doesn’t entirely cover up the sun, and instead it looks like it’s taking a bite out of it. And that’s what we will ultimately see in Vancouver. We are pretty far away from the path of totality unfortunately, so it’s only going to cover about 28 per cent of the sun,” said Aaron Boley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia.

And Metro Vancouverites will only see that 28 per cent “bite” out of the sun if the weather co-operates. Right now, the Monday morning forecast calls for heavy cloud cover and rain.

“If you can’t see the sun, unfortunately you won’t notice much of a change at all,” said Boley, adding the darkness those closer to the path of totality will experience won’t happen here. “You can start to see changes when you get to very high partial eclipse rates, starting at around 78 per cent or so. But just at around 28 per cent, it’s going to look like a normal cloudy day if the sun is covered by clouds.”

If the cloud cover breaks or thins during the eclipse, which will happen between 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m., Metro Vancouver sky watchers need to take precautions.

“You should have some solar glasses,” said Boley. “I want to stress that even if it’s cloudy, please don’t just look up at the sun without any protection at all, because we have no way of really calibrating how much light is really getting through the clouds that way. So it’s an unsafe practise, and also you might suddenly get a hole in the clouds and really hurt your eyes.”

Solar glasses will be available by donation at the HR MacMillan Space Centre, where staff will be viewing the eclipse using a solar-filtered telescope in the observatory. There will also be a live stream of the eclipse in other parts of North America in the observatory.

Even if there is no show in Metro Vancouver, Boley says the event is significant. “I think it’s really important for people to recognize the different kinds of astronomical events that are naturally occurring. Eclipses have played a major part throughout humanity’s history in many different ways. Some of that comes from cultural significance and some from scientific significance.”

And after Monday’s eclipse, it won’t be happening again here for many years.

“Unfortunately for North America, the next partial solar eclipse will be in 2029, and then the next total eclipse that goes through North America will go through Alaska in 2033,” said Boley. And B.C. sky watchers will have to wait even longer. “The next one that goes through a large swath of North America won’t be until 2045. So if you have the chance to see the eclipse, definitely take the chance to do it because it’s a special event and it’s really an amazing thing to do.”

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