Prince Edward Island is in the path of a total solar eclipse in 2024 — and astronomers are urging skygazers to buy their solar viewers before supplies become scarce.
On April 8, 2024, western P.E.I. will find itself in the path of totality. That's the swath of the planet that will have the best view when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, blocking it completely from view.
Totality will be visible only west of Summerside, according to Chris Vessey with Sidewalk Astronomers of Charlottetown, so "geography matters." He says the stage when light from the sun is totally obscured will last more than three minutes in Tignish and about one minute in Summerside, while Charlottetown won't see totality at all.
"All you can see are the streamers around the outside of the sun. It's just an absolutely amazing effect," Vessey said.
"And the biggest thing about all of this? It's not going to happen in P.E.I. — or even in Atlantic Canada — again for more than 55 years … So this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity unless you want to travel to see one of these."
Weather matters too, Vessey added.
"If it's cloudy that day, we won't see anything other than the sky darkening and then the sky lightening again, but we will not see the effect of the eclipse. So we have to, sort of, pray to the weather gods that the skies will be clear at that time."
Don't wait to buy solar viewers
That's not the only big event on the astronomical horizon.
On Oct. 14, 2023, an annular (ring-shaped) eclipse will be visible all the way from the Western Seaboard of the United States to Central America and northern South America.
"That's the one where the moon is a little farther away from us, so it's a little smaller than the diameter of the sun visually speaking, and you get this wonderful ring — or annulus — around the sun. It's also very spectacular," Vessey said.
"You also get what's called the diamond ring effect. So as it is just about completely in the middle, you get this one area of extreme brightness, and it looks like a glowing diamond ring."
With the two events taking place just six months apart, Vessey expects solar-viewing equipment will be hard to find — and prices will jump as the total eclipse approaches.
"The equipment is going to get bought up very quickly, and we may not see the stocks come back in until too late. So that's why we're trying to get people to do this early," he said.
"Anybody who remembers the 2017 eclipse will probably remember the frustration they had trying to buy these things."
Solar viewers filter out ultraviolet and infrared radiation, allowing users to safely stare at the sun. Vessey says skygazers should look for models that have been certified in North America, where known consumer safety regulations are enforced.
Gazing at the sun without the proper equipment is risky, he warns, and can cause permanent vision loss.