If today’s solar eclipse has you wondering when the next one will cross the continent, start planning now for a stellar trip around October 14, 2023.
This week Canada, Greenland, and Russia viewed a brief “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse, which brought a crescent Sun to the northeast U.S. Occurring at sunrise in North America, the partial solar eclipse was low on the horizon and therefore difficult to see; meanwhile cross-border eclipse-chasing proved all but impossible. Fortunately, we’ll have another shot soon enough.
So when is the next such eclipse? On October 14, 2023, an annular solar eclipse will again be visible from the U.S., this time from a roughly 125-mile-wide path of annularity that passes through Oregon, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas before it crosses Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and Brazil. Everyone in the Americas will see a partial solar eclipse that will last more than 2.5 hours. Remember: Eclipse glasses and solar filters will have to be used everywhere, and throughout the spectacle.
The dramatic view of the Sun as a roughly 90%-eclipsed “ring of fire” will mostly serve as a warm-up for the much more anticipated event six months later, when a total solar eclipse strikes Mexico, the U.S., and Canada on April 8, 2024. The paths of the two eclipses both cross a part of Texas — from there it will be possible to see two solar eclipses within six months.
While 2024’s naked-eye totality will be an unparalleled experience, the timing and location of the 2023 eclipse will deliver some high drama through eclipse glasses. “The eclipse is a morning event, which means that the eclipsed Sun will be juxtaposed against the iconic landscapes of the American West,” says John Barentine (International Dark-Sky Association). “The duration of annularity is rather short at only about four and a half minutes, leading to a fairly thin ring at mid-eclipse—a sight that few observers will forget.”
The eclipse will occur when the Sun is 17º to 49º above the horizon in the southeast daytime sky, so it’ll be well-positioned for viewing. Also, the prospects of a clear sky in the western U.S. in October are rather good; fall days and nights in the Colorado Plateau are often clear and dry.
However, what should also persuade amateur astronomers to take a road trip in 2023 is the prospect of fabulous stargazing under dark night skies. “Since the eclipse can only happen close to a New Moon, there will be little or no moonlight interference for nighttime observing for several nights on either side of eclipse day,” says Barentine.
October nights also offer the best of the Milky Way at dawn and dusk, while the minor Draconids and Orionids meteor showers will peak the week before and after the eclipse, respectively. Venus will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky while Jupiter will be close to its bright annual opposition.
Dark Sky Parks Along the Eclipse Path
This eclipse will be visible from many state and national parks, including no fewer than 20 International Dark Sky Parks. Three of them — Devils River State Natural Area, Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area, and Rainbow Bridge National Monument — are remote International Dark Sky Sanctuaries. Some of these saw the sunset annular solar eclipse of May 20, 2012. There are many other tantalizing observing locations, including Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah/Arizona border.
Update (September 25, 2023): It was announced on September 15, 2023 that Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Four Corners Monument Navajo Tribal Park, and the management office at the Tséyi’ Diné Heritage Area-Cottonwood Campground within Canyon de Chelly National Monument will be closed for a minimum of five hours from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. MDT on October 14th, during the annular eclipse, for eclipse observance by staff.
Here we present only the International Dark Sky Parks, with each accompanied by that location’s “ring time,” the altitude of the eclipse, and where that location is with respect to the path of annularity.
|Dark Sky Park||Length of annular phase||Eclipse altitude||Location in path of annularity|
|Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah||2 minutes, 15 seconds||30º||Southern edge|
|Canyonlands National Park, Utah||2 minutes, 24 seconds||31º||Northern edge|
|Capitol Reef National Park, Utah||4 minutes, 37 seconds||30º||Centerline|
|Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico||4 minutes, 42 seconds||34º||Centerline|
|Devils River State Natural Area, Texas||2 minutes, 19 seconds||45º||Southern edge|
|Fremont Indian State Park, Utah||4 minutes, 39 seconds||29º||Centerline|
|Great Basin National Park, Nevada||3 minutes, 29 seconds||27º||Towards southern edge|
|Goosenecks State Park, Utah||4 minutes, 40 seconds||32º||Centerline|
|Goblin Valley State Park, Utah||2 minutes, 55 seconds||30º||Towards northern edge|
|Hovenweep National Monument, Utah and Colorado||3 minutes, 47 seconds||32º||Towards northern edge|
|Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah||2 minutes, 28 seconds||30º||Towards southern edge|
|Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area, Utah||3 minutes, 57 seconds||22º||Towards southern edge|
|Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado||2 minutes, 58 seconds||33º||Towards northern edge|
|Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah||4 minutes, 28 seconds||31º||Centerline|
|Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Arizona||3 minutes, 12 seconds||31º||Towards southern edge|
|Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, New Mexico||4 minutes, 3 seconds||37º||Towards southern edge|
|South Llano River State Park, Texas||4 minutes, 28 seconds||45º||Centerline|
|Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico||3 minutes, 31 seconds||35º||Towards northern edge|
|Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico||4 minutes, 34 seconds||36º||Centerline|
|UBarU Camp and Retreat Center, Texas||3 minutes, 54 seconds||46º||Towards northern edge|
“Among the darkest International Dark Sky Parks that will see true annularity or are within reasonable driving distance of the centerline, I would count Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the Massacre Rim Wilderness Study Area, and the southern reaches of Capitol Reef,” says Barentine.
As an added point of interest, some think that the “Piedra del Sol” petroglyph carved by Ancestral Puebloan people in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon may represent the solar corona as seen during a total solar eclipse on July 11, 1097, though it’s a controversial claim. “But, of course,” Barentine adds, “every park has something special to offer and visiting any of them is a worthwhile experience.”
On the actual day of the eclipse, it may make sense to position yourself at the limit of the path of annularity. “For a total solar eclipse, you want to be near the middle of the path of totality for the longest duration, but for annular eclipses, the northern or southern limits of the path have great appeal,” says Michael Zeiler, a Santa Fe-based cartographer who runs GreatAmericanEclipse.com. “From there you’ll see a fantastic light show as the last bits of sunlight — called Baily’s Beads — rotate about the disk of the Moon.” However, doing so does sacrifice how long you see the ring.
Eclipse-chasing in all its forms is a wonderful excuse to explore our planet — but only if you plan ahead. “Travelers may well want to look for reservations as much as a year in advance,” says Barentine. “A thin ring at mid-eclipse and many good nights of stargazing under dark night skies make this a trip not to be missed.”