It’s never too early to start getting excited — or planning — for an event as spectacular as a total solar eclipse.
If you’ve witnessed a total eclipse of the Sun, you already know that when the next one rolls around on April 8, 2024, North America will be in for a real treat. That’s when the Moon will blot out our nearest star for lucky viewers along a narrow strip of land that stretches from central Mexico, across Texas, up through New England, and into the Canadian Maritimes. Tens of millions more will see a partial eclipse, provided skies are clear.
Solar eclipses happen thanks to a fortuitous coincidence: The apparent size of the Moon is very close to that of the Sun. So when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are perfectly lined up — in what’s known as syzygy (great word for you Scrabble players out there) — the silhouette of the Moon crosses the solar disk.
When the Moon covers the disk completely, we witness a total solar eclipse. If the Moon is at apogee, or the farthest point in its orbit around Earth, then its apparent size is smaller and it won’t fully cover the solar disk. The result is a thin ring of sunshine, an annulus, rimming the edge of the blackened Moon. A partial eclipse happens when the Moon blocks only part of the disk.
During a total eclipse, when the Moon hides the brilliant Sun from us, you can revel in the glory of its corona, or its blistering, rarefied outer atmosphere. Temperatures reach about a million degrees here, and the ethereal filaments can extend into space for some 5 million miles. If you’ve been lucky enough to witness the corona during an eclipse, chances are you’re hooked and are constantly on the lookout for the next opportunity. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat.
Which brings us back to April 8, 2024. That’s when the cosmic solar-lunar-terrestrial rumba brings the next total eclipse to North America. The width of the Moon’s shadow that’ll whip over Earth is around 115 miles wide. So if you find yourself inside that path, you’ll see a total eclipse (provided skies are clear, of course!).
What’s more, the Moon will blot the Sun’s light for a respectable 4 minutes 28 seconds (depending on where you are; it’s more fleeting in some locations). For comparison, the total phase of the August 2017 eclipse lasted only about 2 to 2½ minutes.
|If you’re looking forward to 2024’s eclipse but don’t want all the logistical hassles, why not join Sky & Telescope’s tour to the heart of Texas? From our private viewing site in Fredericksburg, you’ll experience 4m 23s of totality — just 5 seconds short of the maximum duration anywhere along the path. Click here to get more information and a reservation link.
But That’s Not All
Almost exactly half a year prior, on October 14, 2023, an annular solar eclipse will delight viewers along an arc from southern Oregon through southern Texas, then across the Gulf of Mexico and over the Yucatán Peninsula. For those of you in the 125-mile-wide path, you’ll see a “ring of fire” for up to 5 minutes.
Take a close look at the two maps above and below — you'll notice that they intersect somewhere around the San Antonio, Texas, area. If you live in that part of the country, you’re in for a double delight!
|Sky & Telescope offers two distinctive tours to witness the annular eclipse on October 14, 2023. Choose from viewing sites in the Pueblo region of New Mexico or amid the heart of Maya culture on the Yucatán Peninsula.
Ready, Set, April 8th Here We Come
It might be two years away, but it's never too early to start planning. You’ll want to think carefully of where you want to be on the path of totality, how to get there, and also how to get out of there. (If you were among those who got stuck in frustrating traffic jams after the August 2017 eclipse, you know too well the desire not to repeat that experience!)
The American Astronomical Society has established a Solar Eclipse Task Force to ensure that things run smoothly in 2024 (and 2023), so that eager eclipse-viewers across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico can fully — and safely — take in the experience of a lifetime. As the big date approaches, the AAS will continuously update the Task Force’s eclipse website with practical information.
By the way, if you’re into eclipses and have an organizational bent, are associated with local government, or are an amateur astronomer active in your community, you may want to consider applying to serve on one of the AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force Working Groups to get involved in the action from the outset.
For more information on eclipse events local to you, check in with your local library or amateur-astronomy club. Another excellent source of information about totality in 2024 is Dan McGlaun’s comprehensive and helpful website: eclipse2024.org.
One last thing: Don’t ever look directly at the Sun. We can’t stress this enough. Make sure you get proper eclipse glasses for yourself or filters for your telescope. Regular sunglasses just won’t cut it. Also, be aware of inferior or unapproved eclipse glasses — only get those with an official stamp of approval. If you have eclipse glasses lying around the house, do inspect them very carefully for scratches and tears before you use them. Read more here on the all-important issue of protecting your eyes.
This is going to be a nationwide event, and everybody’s already super-excited. Now, we just need is to make our plans and hope the weather cooperates. Fingers crossed!