September 27, 2023

What to expect during the 2024 total solar eclipse

Sky watchers across North America are in for a treat in 2024, when a total solar eclipse will sweep across Mexico, the United States and Canada.

The much-anticipated celestial event won’t take place until April 8, but eclipse fans are already booking hotels within the path of totality, and experts suggest making plans now so as not to miss a thing.

The last total solar eclipse visible from the US occurred on August 21, 2017. – Aubrey Gemignani/NASA

That’s likely because a total solar eclipse won’t be visible again in the contiguous US until August 2044. (It’s been nearly six years since 2017’s “Great American Eclipse.”)

Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming solar eclipse.

What is a Total Solar Eclipse?

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, completely blocking the sun’s face.

Those within the path of totality, or locations where the moon’s shadow will completely cover the sun, will see a total solar eclipse. People outside the path of totality will still be able to see a partial eclipse, where the moon blocks only part of the sun’s face.

During a total solar eclipse, the sky darkens as it does at sunrise or sunset, and there are several stages of the eclipse that skygazers anticipate.

Since the moon does not suddenly appear between the Earth and the sun, the event begins with a partial eclipse that makes the sun appear like a crescent moon. Depending on your location, the partial eclipse could last anywhere from 70 to 80 minutes, according to NASA.

When the moon begins to cross in front of the sun, the star’s rays will shine around valleys on the moon’s horizon, creating glowing droplets of light around the moon in a phenomenon called Baily’s Beads.

The Baily’s beading effect was visible as the moon moved past the sun during the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, over Madras, Oregon. —Aubrey Gemignani/NASA

As totality approaches, Baily’s beads will quickly disappear until a single point of light remains, resembling a glittering giant diamond ring.

The diamond ring will disappear when totality arrives and there is no sign of direct sunlight. Bright stars or planets can shine in the dark sky and the air temperature will drop as the sun disappears. The sudden darkness causes animals to become silent.

The chromosphere, or part of the sun’s atmosphere, can glow in a thin pink circle around the moon during totality, while the sun’s hot outer atmosphere, or corona, appears as white light.

As the moon continues its journey across the face of the sun, the diamond ring and Baily’s beads and the partial eclipse appear on the far side of the moon until the sun reappears in full.

Where can I see the solar eclipse?

The total eclipse will be visible in parts of Mexico, Canada and more than 10 US states, while the partial eclipse is expected to appear in 49 states — weather permitting. Bad weather is always the biggest obstacle to eclipse viewing.

The eclipse will first appear over the South Pacific and begin its journey across North America. Mexico’s Pacific coast is the first point of totality on the trail, expected at 11:07 a.m. PT.

The trail passes through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. It will then cross Canada into southern Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, ending on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland at 5:16 p.m. (3:46 p.m. ET).

A map shows the path of the October annular eclipse in yellow circles and the total eclipse of 2024 in blue circles. – Scientific Visualization Studio//NASA

When is the next solar eclipse?

An annular solar eclipse will sweep across North, Central and South America on October 14 and will be visible to millions of people in the Western Hemisphere.

This type of solar eclipse is similar to a total solar eclipse, except that the moon is at the furthest point in its orbit from the Earth and so cannot completely block the sun. Instead, annular solar eclipses create a “ring of fire” in the sky, as the fiery light of the sun surrounds the moon’s shadow.

The annular eclipse will follow a different path, starting in the US and down the Oregon Coast to the Texas Gulf Coast, appearing in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. The annular eclipse will also be visible in parts of California, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona.

After leaving the US, the eclipse will cross Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Panama and Colombia before ending off the Atlantic coast in Natal, Brazil.

How do I safely view the solar eclipse?

Eclipses have fueled awe, superstition and fear in mankind for centuries. Total solar eclipses offer rare, direct glimpses of the sun’s corona and other features typically hidden by our star’s overwhelming brightness.

It is never safe to look directly at the sun without using specialized protection, except during totality when the sunlight is completely blocked.

A composite image shows the course of a partial solar eclipse over Ross Lake in Washington State’s Northern Cascades National Park in 2017. – Bill Ingalls/NASA

At any hint of returning sunlight, wear certified eclipse goggles or use portable solar vision goggles. Separately, you can observe the sun with a telescope, binoculars or camera with a special solar filter on the front, which works in the same way as eclipse glasses.

Sunglasses will not work in place of eclipse glasses or solar vision glasses, which are thousands of times darker and meet an international standard. Do not use cracked, scratched, or damaged eclipse glasses or solar binoculars.

Don’t look at the sun through any optical device — camera lens, telescope, binoculars — while wearing eclipse glasses or using hand-held solar binoculars, according to NASA. Sun rays can still burn through the filter on the goggles or binoculars, given how concentrated they can be through an optical device, and can cause serious eye damage.

Astronauts captured an image of the Moon’s shadow on Earth during the 2017 total solar eclipse from their perspective on the International Space Station. – NASA

Eclipses can also be viewed indirectly using a pinhole projector, such as a hole punched through an index card. These work by standing with your back to the sun and holding up the card. The pinhole projects an image of the sun onto the ground or other surfaces. But never look at the sun and look directly at it through the actual hole.

If you spend some time outside waiting for the eclipse, don’t forget to apply sunscreen and wear a hat to protect your skin.

What can we learn from eclipses

Eclipses provide scientists with an opportunity to study the sun and how it interacts with Earth in unique ways, and NASA has selected several projects to fund during the 2024 total solar eclipse.

“Scientists have long used solar eclipses to make scientific discoveries,” Kelly Korreck, program scientist at NASA, said in a statement. “They helped us make the first detection of helium, gave us evidence for general relativity, and allowed us to better understand the influence of the sun on Earth’s upper atmosphere.”

A view of the 2017 total solar eclipse was captured from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Gulfstream III aircraft 25,000 feet above the Oregon coast. —Carla Thomas/NASA

One project will rely on NASA’s high-altitude research aircraft to capture images of the eclipse from 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) above Earth’s surface to capture previously unseen detail in the sun’s corona. The images could also help scientists search for asteroids orbiting near the sun.

Amateur radio operators will try an experiment during both the annular and total solar eclipses to see how these phenomena change the way radio waves travel. Operators in different locations record the strength of their signals and how far they travel. Scientists are interested in tracking this distance because the sun directly impacts Earth’s upper atmosphere, or ionosphere, which allows radio communications to travel farther.
But if the moon blocks the sun, that can change.

This composite image, made of seven images, shows the International Space Station passing by during a partial solar eclipse in 2017. – Joel Kowsky/NASA

Both scientists and citizen scientists plan to observe the sun’s most active regions during both eclipses as the moon passes over them using the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope.

The sun is currently approaching solar maximum in July 2025, and scientists are eager to capture this peak of activity through a variety of observations that can only occur during eclipses.

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