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Eclipse 2024: Here's everything you need to know about April's solar eclipse

Totality is coming!

The total solar eclipse is coming to North America on April 8, 2024. Here’s what you need to know.

You’ve probably started hearing about this eclipse from everywhere, to the point where you might be sick of it. Yet here I am, talking about it as well, because I do genuinely feel that this is a huge event that you should pay attention to, even if you’re not in the path of totality. (I wrote this for the 2017 eclipse, at least I’m consistent!)

Let’s break down when it is, where you’ll be able to see it, how to see it (please use proper eye protection!), and the science behind why eclipses on Earth are so unique.

Why this eclipse is a big deal

If you’re wondering why this eclipse is a big deal, that’s because it’s a total eclipse. Unlike the “ring of fire” or annular eclipse that occurred in 2023, so named because the positioning of the sun and moon ensured you could see a ring around the moon, as you can see here. It’s not a total eclipse because the sun isn’t fully blocked by the moon, and at no point is it safe to take off your eclipse glasses during a ring of fire eclipse.

Annular eclipse, credit: NASA

But during a total eclipse, if you’re in the narrow path of totality, you get the full experience. As the moon moves in front of the sun, the sky darkens, animals get quiet, the bees stop buzzing, birds fall silent. People have chased this feeling across the globe because it’s such a profound experience.

Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

It’s not exactly rare or once in a lifetime — the last total eclipse across the United States occurred in 2017. However, the next one won’t happen until 2026 in Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. If you’re looking for the next total eclipse to hit the U.S.? That won’t happen until August 23, 2044 — so if you have the chance to see this one, you should take it.

Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

How to see the eclipse

If you’re in the path of totality during the April 8 eclipse, then seeing it is easy — provided you have proper eye protection, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The eclipse will be visible across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, no matter where you are — but it necessarily be a total eclipse. What that means is that the moon might block part of the sun — 20%, 30%, 50%, maybe even 90%, but you won’t experience full darkness during the daytime. If you want to experience totality, you have to get into this narrow path during a specific time. Outside that path, you will not have the full experience.

Credit: NASA

Here’s NASA’s map of the path of totality, which is about 115 miles wide. The eclipse will start in Canada and travel southwest through the U.S. and Mexico.

Credit: NASA

Here’s a list of cities the eclipse will cross, as well as times — note that some big cities, such as Montreal, Canada, Rochester, NY, Cleveland, OH, Indianapolis, IN, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio, TX, aren’t on this list, so there are a lot of options here. You can use NASA’s total solar eclipse maps to look up details on the path of totality.

Totality will last different amounts of time depending on where you are, but it will be up to 4 minutes and 28 seconds, which is much longer than the 2017 eclipse. During totality, you’ll be able to see the moon covering the sun in the sky, and the sun’s corona (or outer atmosphere), which we can only see with our eyes during a total eclipse. When the sun’s out, it’s too bright for us to see the corona.

Credit: NASA/Carla Thomas

I’ll be in San Antonio for the event, but take note — if you’re heading that way, only the western half the city is in the path of the eclipse, so don’t sit on the Riverwalk and expect to see it.

Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

Eclipse maps are super helpful to strategize where to go, and I highly recommend being in place at least 24 hours before the eclipse occurs because there will be a lot of traffic.

Also note the weather. April across the U.S. isn’t great for cloud cover. That’s why I personally am heading south.

Proper eye protection is key!

It’s incredibly important to protect your eyes during this event. I highly recommend picking up eclipse glasses from an authorized reseller or brand — fake eclipse glasses were a big problem during the 2017 eclipse. I recommend the Celestron eclipse glasses. They also make great solar binoculars. (Celestron isn’t paying for this or sponsoring this, FYI.)

The AAS, or American Astronomical Society, has a list of approved vendors to buy eclipse glasses from. As the event gets closer, you can probably also pick them up from the library or a local store, especially if you’re in the path of totality. But if you’re going to order online, I’d do it sooner rather than later.

Remember: It’s not safe to look at the sun, or point a camera or phone at the sun, without proper eye protection at ANY point during the eclipse except during totality. If you try and take a video of the eclipse without a solar filter on your camera or phone, you’ll damage it, and if you try to look at the eclipse before or after totality without eye protection, you’ll burn out your retinas. Don’t do that.

What if you’re not in the path of totality?

It’s not exactly easy to get into the path of totality—lodgings are pretty full and hard to find. So let’s say you want to view the eclipse and participate in activities, but you’re not going to experience the full eclipse? It’s still worth doing.

Eclipse 2024 has a great map in which you can input your location and see what the eclipse will look like. I definitely recommend playing around with this tool and seeing what the eclipse will look like where you live, if you’re not in the path of totality.

You also should be able to stream the eclipse if you want to watch totality while you’re experiencing a partial solar eclipse. NASA will provide live coverage on the day of the event from 1 PM to 4 PM ET. I’ll make sure the link is down in the show notes.

Why do eclipses happen?

Of course, you knew I was going to get to this part — let’s talk about the science behind eclipses. There’s a lot of coincidence that goes into totality; it’s a unique phenomenon that doesn’t happen on every planet in the solar system. For example, the Mars rover Perseverance caught a solar eclipse on Mars this week.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

But….this doesn’t exactly look like our conception of a solar eclipse. That’s because our moon is unique, which I’ll get to in a minute. But first, let’s talk about why solar eclipses happen.

To put it simply, a total solar eclipse happens because the moon moves in between the Sun and the Earth. The sun shines from behind the moon, which means the moon casts a shadow on the Earth and blocks the sun’s light from our perspective.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

In a total eclipse, all the light is blocked. In a partial eclipse, some of the light is blocked.

But here’s the thing: the moon is between the Earth and sun during every new moon phase. Remember, the moon reflects the sun’s light, so when the moon is between the sun and the Earth, it doesn’t reflect any light back towards Earth. That’s what happens during the new moon.

So why isn’t there an eclipse every new moon? Well, that’s because of something called the ecliptic, which is the path the sun travels in our sky. It’s also the plane of our solar system, which means all of the planets in our night sky are within a few degrees of the ecliptic. (If you want to learn more about the ecliptic, check out my book Stargazing, which you can pick up wherever you buy books).

The moon doesn’t orbit along the ecliptic, but it intersects it twice a month (when we have a new moon). The moon’s orbit is inclined, or tilted, relative to the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. This means that the moon’s shadow is usually too high or low on the Earth to cause an eclipse. But anywhere from four to seven times a year, the moon, Earth, and sun line up just right to create an eclipse.

The cosmic coincidence that allows totality

There are multiple types of eclipses — partial, annular, hybrid, and total. The reason we can have a total solar eclipse is because, as I mentioned previously, our moon is unique. It’s just cosmic coincidence that the sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon. And the sun is also about 400 times further away than the moon is from us. That means that they appear roughly the same size in our sky, which means the moon has the ability to fully block the sun’s light from our perspective — allowing us to experience totality.

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