On April 8, 2024, Montreal will see a total solar eclipse for the first time since 1932.
While the rare event is spectacular, it comes with some risks. That’s why some schools across North America are closing for the day.
“One of the problems is that you’re dealing with a huge amount of light pouring into a very, very small part of the back of the eye,” explained Ralph Chou, a professor at the University of Waterloo and a leading expert on solar energy. eclipses and eye health.
“The other thing is that there are no pain sensors at this site, so you can cause a lot of damage to the fundus of the eye without realizing it.”
Given these dangers, it is not entirely clear how schools in and around Montreal will continue.
On Friday, only one school service center reached by CTV News was certain to close its doors on April 8: the Center de Services scolaire (CSS) des Sommets in the eastern urban areas.
The spokesperson explained that the eclipse will occur at the end of the school day, when many students will be heading home.
“Young people and those who are not independent must be offered constant supervision to ensure that they respect the safety conditions. We cannot apply this instruction to school transport,” CSS des Sommet said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the only schools that will remain open are at CSS de Montréal.
“At CSSDM, we will focus on activities to raise awareness of this rare astronomical phenomenon,” the statement said. “Each school is free to organize its own activities. We will also advise students not to look directly at the eclipse.”
All other school boards contacted by CTV News Friday said they were still weighing their options.
- Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board
- Eastern Townships School Board
- Lester B. Pearson School Board
- Montreal English School Board
- Montreal School Service Centre
- Sommet School Service Center
For the Department of Education, a spokesman said it was up to school boards to determine the right course of action.
However, the ministry has provided all information to the heads of school organizations for planning the supervision of students on April 8, including the protection and planning of returning home, since the time of the eclipse will coincide with the end of classes. “
The moon covers the sun during a total solar eclipse in Piedra del Aguila, Argentina, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Keeping your eyes (and your children’s eyes) safe
Chou said the effects of unprotected exposure to a solar eclipse are usually not felt until several hours later.
“The eyes continue to function normally for the rest of the day. When they go to bed at night and fall asleep, that’s when the damage starts to manifest. And so when they open their eyes in the morning […] they suddenly find that right in the center of their vision is this area that doesn’t seem to work, everything is blurry,” he explained.
Children may be particularly sensitive to the eclipse this year, given its timing (between 2:15 p.m. and 4:36 p.m. in Montreal, when children are not under the strict supervision of their teachers).
But keeping young people at home isn’t a perfect solution either, says Chou: “Then the problem is that parents or guardians will have to keep control of the children.”
Chou said parents and schools must be steadfast in educating children and teenagers about how to view the eclipse safely.
An important note is that these directions may vary depending on where you are in Montreal.
“Montreal is an interesting situation because you have that northern part of the city that’s almost in eclipse — you know, 99.5 percent coverage — and then you have the area upriver, and the south is in the path of totality.”
It’s only safe to watch when the sun is completely, totally covered, Chou pointed out. Those moments before and after a total eclipse—when the sun is still peeking out from behind the moon—must be seen through special lenses.
Since the coverage in the northern part of the city will not be perfect, the glasses must remain on the head: “No matter how small this crescent looks, it is still dangerous.”
And regular sunglasses won’t help either, Chou noted.
Specialized solar eclipse glasses can be purchased online, but must comply with ISO 12312-2, a standard that Chou himself helped develop in 2015.
“Sunglasses, even dark ones, only reduce light by 90 percent. So only 10 percent of the light gets through. To be able to look at the sun safely, you need to have a filter that actually cuts sunlight by a factor of about one part in about 200,000 […] the transfer is 0.0003 percent.”
With files from CTV’s Matt Gilmour.