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Quebec app helps amateur astronomers watch the eclipse

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Amateur astronomers or one-time eclipse enthusiasts can now use a new bilingual app to ensure they get the best experience on April 8.

The app My Eclipse is a 21st-century tool for this age-old phenomenon, created by the Quebec Federation of Amateur Astronomers (FAAQ).

According to Alain Préfontaine, a project manager with the FAAQ, the app has three main objectives: informational, historical and scientific.

The goal, says Préfontaine, is to give people a wealth of information about eclipses and prepare them with the best ways to observe the changing sky.

The app provides details such as letting users know if they are standing in the line of complete totality -- that is, when they can take their glasses off to look at the eclipse and when they should put them back on.

"People realize that if you go to totality, especially a long period of totality, you're going to enjoy the eclipse tremendously," said Préfontaine. "There's a huge difference between a 99 per cent covered sun and totality."

He calls the marvel almost "esoteric."

"Everything changes, darkness comes; human nature has been guided by the sun coming up in the morning, going down at night for thousands of years," Préfontaine points out. "All of a sudden, at 3:30 p.m., the sun's going to disappear...People are marked by that."

The federation worked with programmers from Université de Montréal for over a year to create the app and tested it out for the first time last October during a partial eclipse.

The app isn't just for the total eclipse on April 8; Préfontaine says it is up to date until 2032.

"We won't have any total eclipses in Quebec, but they happen somewhere on the globe every year, year-and-a-half," said Préfontaine. "Many of them are going to be visible as partial eclipses from here, so you can use it for those. Or if you get on a plane and go to Europe or Africa or wherever, you can bring the app with you and it's going to give you the same quality information."

That means users can use the app no matter where they are in the world.

"Because of geo-localization, it's going to know where you are, and it's going to give you real-time messages as to what's happening around you," he said.

The last total eclipse viewable from Montreal was in 1932; the next isn't expected until 2106.

To download the My Eclipse app, click here for iOS and here for Android

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