News / Halifax

'Almost like a religious experience:' Halifax student U.S.-bound for total solar eclipse

John Read says he'll be live-streaming the unique event, where the darkness rushes at you like a storm, via Twitter.

Saint Mary's University astrophysics student, author and amateur astronomer John Read at the university's Burke-Gaffney Observatory. Read just released a new book, and he's headed to Nebraska to see the solar eclipse on Monday.

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Saint Mary's University astrophysics student, author and amateur astronomer John Read at the university's Burke-Gaffney Observatory. Read just released a new book, and he's headed to Nebraska to see the solar eclipse on Monday.

When Monday’s total solar eclipse plunges a swath of the United States into midday darkness, Halifax resident John Read will have a front row seat.

The amateur astronomer and St. Mary’s University astrophysics student is travelling to Grand Island, Nebraska for the celestial event.

“What’s rare about this one is it crosses the entire United States and that happens only a couple times every hundred years…So most people in the U.S. are within an eight hour drive of seeing this event,” Read said.

“It’s pretty close to total darkness. We’re talking about totality which only lasts about two and a half minutes.”

For three years, Read has planned to make the trip to the U.S. for the total eclipse. It will be the first time he’s seen one.

“Apparently it’s almost like a religious experience for a lot of people. It just rocks their world. You can get addicted, you can become what’s called a shadow chaser,” he said.

“You look at the horizon and it looks like a storm is coming. You can see the darkness approaching you from miles and miles away and it’s coming at you at whatever it is a thousand miles or more an hour and then it just engulfs you.”

Read said while total eclipses occur every 16 to 18 months, they often happen in the ocean, Antarctica, or other “inconvenient places.”

The next total solar eclipse viewable to a wide population will occur in 2024.  For Maritimers, Fredericton, New Brunswick will be the place to see it.

Read said he’s beyond excited for Monday’s total eclipse and plans to live stream it via his Twitter account, @JohnAaronRead.

“For that two minute period of totality you can look at the sun which is completely covered by the moon and you can see stars. If the space station is flying by you’ll see it,” he said.

“You can see the planets during the day if there are any up. Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, or Saturn hypothetically if they’re in the sky at the time.”

Nova Scotians will only be able to observe a partial eclipse on Monday afternoon. In Halifax, there will be about 55 per cent coverage of the sun during the event. People are reminded to use eclipse glasses to safely gaze at the sky.

New astronomy book for kids and parents

Last week, Read launched his latest book for kids, ‘50 Things to See With a Telescope, Kids.’

The constellation-focused approach includes photos and short write-ups for seeing things with the naked eye, binoculars and/or a telescope. It breaks down the best ways to view constellations, stars, galaxies and globular clusters.

It also gives helpful, straightforward advice about how to properly set up and use a telescope.

“A telescope is one of the most popular gifts that parents give their kids at Christmas. Then they use it once, they can’t focus it, and they give up on it,” Read said.

“I thought about how do you simplify it so that kids can go out and see cool things. Usually it’s something really cool like Saturn or sometimes the craters in the moon that just gets them to go home and ask their parents to buy every book on the subject.”

The book is now available on Amazon and will soon be downloadable on Kindle and available in local libraries.

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