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The 2024 Total Solar Eclipse will be the most watched celestial event in our lifetime, given how many millions are on or near the path. See the map of the “path of totality” across the U.S. to find out if you’re nearby. It’s not too early to plan for nature’s most awesome experience.
Many of you may remember the 2017 “Great American Eclipse” which gave many Americans the chance to see their first solar eclipse. (Here’s what it was like to see it!) For the second time in seven years, the Moon’s shadow is coming here to the U.S. and parts of eastern Canada, including the southernmost suburbs of Montreal.
On April 8, 2024, 32 million people living on the path of totality in the United States will witness this event (versus 12 million people in 2017) and many more will live within a few hours of driving. In addition, the 2024 total solar eclipse will be much longer—a full four minutes of total darkness versus 2-1/2 minutes.
This is your opportunity to witness one of nature’s most phenomenal wonders. After the 2024 eclipse, we won’t experience another total solar eclipse visible here until August 23, 2044.
In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain’s captured hero escapes death by fooling the natives with a wave of his hand, seemingly making the Sun go dark.
“For a lesson, I will let this darkness proceed, and spread night in the world; but whether I blot out the sun for good, or restore it, shall rest with you.”
To many readers, the most riveting event on that page wasn’t the threat of being burned at the stake, but the Sun turning black. Can that really happen?
What is a Total Solar Eclipse?
A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes perfectly between the Earth and the Sun and completely blocks the Sun’s face. A shadow is cast onto Earth and the sky turns nearly dark as night.
Weather permitting, people along the path of totality will see the Sun’s corona, or outer atmospheric glow (as seen in above photo), which is usually not visible due to the brightness of the Sun.
How Rare is a Total Solar Eclipse?
A total eclipse’s rarity adds to its allure. For any given place on Earth, a solar totality appears just once each 360 years. But that interval is just the average. Here and there, a few odd places enjoy two totalities in a single decade while others must cool their heels for more than a millennium. In the United States, no major metropolis has seen a total solar eclipse since New York City did in 1925, unless you count the clouded-over sunrise event that disappointed BeanTown in 1959.
For those who are curious as to how long one must wait between total solar eclipses, I put together a list of North American cities, and the current interval between totalities to show how great the variation is between them!
Total Eclipse Interval Between Major Cities
Most recent totality
Years between eclipses
1943, February 4
2399, August 2
1778, June 24
2078, May 11
1959, October 2
2079, May 1
1869, August 7
2044, August 23
1806, June 6
2205, July 17
1623, October 23
2024, April 8
1878, July 29
2045, August 12
Halifax, Nova Scotia
1970, March 7
2079, May 1
1850, August 7
2252, December 31
1259, October 17
2200, April 14
Las Vegas, NV
1724, May 22
2207, November 20
Los Angeles, CA
1724, May 22
3290, April 1
Mexico City, Mexico
1991, July 11
2261, December 22
1752, May 13
2352, February 16
1932, August 31
2024, April 8
New Orleans, LA
1900, May 28
2078, May 11
New York, NY
1925, January 24
2079, May 1
1806, June 16
2205, July 17
St. Louis, MO
1442, July 7
2017, August 21
San Francisco, CA
1424, June 26
2252, December 31
1860, July 18
2645, May 17
1142, August 22
2144, October 26
1451, June 28
2200, April 14
1979, February 26
3356, September 16
But the real reason to do everything in one’s power to see a total eclipse of the Sun: It’s nature’s most awesome experience. Surveys of backyard astronomers and naturalists show that most people are swept into awe by a brilliant comet, which happens every 15 to 20 years on average. And also by a bright display of the Northern Lights. One might include the rare bolide or exploding meteor. But the very best of them all is a solar totality. And one is crossing a large swath of the U.S. plus a few small parts of Canada in about a year.
There are critical mistakes to avoid, so let’s dive into them first. Then we’ll show our sunnier side by telling you how best to see it, including avoiding the heartbreaking possibility of the Sun being hidden by clouds.
You MUST View from the Path of Totality
What’s important to know is that most people will NOT see the total solar eclipse unless they understand that totality can only be viewed from within a narrow path that’s typically 150 miles wide and thousands of miles long.
What most people will see is a partial solar eclipse, which will simultaneously be seen from a much huger region. But a partial solar eclipse is a common event and barely 1% as spectacular as a total solar eclipse. Solar eclipses are different. That’s because an avalanche of unique effects suddenly unfolds at totality.
On the map below, pay attention to the “2024 Path of Totality” that goes from the southwest corner up to the northeast corner of North America. The path crosses through Dallas, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Buffalo—with San Antonio, Austin, Cincinnati and the Canadian city of Montreal lying just at the edge of the 120-mile-wide eclipse path.
You’ll observe the glories of totality if you were in Cleveland or Burlington, Vermont but not if you are in, say, Albany, New York. So traveling into the path of totality is the most important thing you can do.
Staying home because you’ve read that “the eclipse will be visible from my backyard” amounts to blowing your opportunity because such statements nearly always merely apply to the partial eclipse.
Watch this video to get a closer look at sections of the solar eclipse map.
Get Eye Protection in Advance
You absolutely must have eye protection for the long partial eclipse stage, specifically a special super-dark filter bearing the international standard ISO 12312-2. Most such modern eclipse glasses are cardboard with floppy plastic filters. They deliver a nice orange image of the Sun but scratch easily, so be careful when handling them. See the American Astronomical Society’s guide for approved eclipse glasses.
Alternatively, recent studies by the School of Optometry and Vision Science in Waterloo, Ontario, and by Rick Feinberg of the American Astronomical Society, published in the September 2021 issue of the Astronomical Journal, supports the safety of welders filters shades 12, 13, and 14. These all safely allow 6.9 hours of continuous sun viewing. But no lower number shade is safe.
This big event begins with the partial solar eclipse—which is an hour-long prologue to totality for people in the right place. Again, a partial eclipse can only be safely viewed using eye protection. As the Moon slides between the Earth and the Sun, it does not cover the Sun. Rather, the Sun will appear as a crescent shape.
A good idea is to put down your eye filter when the Sun has been reduced to a thin crescent, but only to view your surrounding countryside. Colors are saturated, shadows are stark, contrast is ramped way up. Look for dark shadow bands moving along the ground or on the sides of buildings. Ordinary objects like cars seem somehow unfamiliar, as if illuminated by a different kind of star than the Sun. It’s other-worldly.
As the Moon makes its final move across the Sun, you may notice points of light around the Moon’s perimeter. Called Baily’s Beads, they rays come from the Sun streaming through the valleys along the Moon’s horizon.
Right at the beginning of totality (and at the very end), you may see a single bright spot shine out. It’s called a Diamond Ring. Perhaps you can see why in the image below.
When the hour-long partial eclipse ends, the sight through your filter will be pitch black. This means totality has begun and now you have up to about four minutes of observing the Sun directly or even through binoculars.
Look for the corona, the Sun’s outer atmosphere, which forms a glowing ring of light surrounding what seems like a black hole in the sky where the Sun used to be.
Observe the inky-black new Moon.
Look and listen for animals behaving strangely.
And be sure to look closely around the black Moon for pink prominences—glowing geysers of nuclear flame. These are often small and best seen through binoculars or a small telescope. Since pointing a telescope and having it accurately track the Sun is occasionally time consuming and you don’t want to waste a second, binoculars may be the best bet. Image stabilized models are the best of the best.
But a note of caution: Even one second of binocular use when totality is over can damage your retina. For maximum care, use binoculars for only a minute or less during the middle of totality. You’ll know from maps how long totality will last from your location. Say it’s three minutes. This means you can look at it directly during the first and last minute, and reserve binocular use for the middle minute.
Finally, beyond the mind-numbing natural phenomena of the corona, the prominences, and the odd lighting, there’s the magical otherworldly feeling that consumes all onlookers. It’s ineffably powerful. About half the people observing solar totality weep from the sheer beauty and emotional power of it. “The home of my soul,” is how one woman summarized the 1980 total eclipse from northeastern India.
But this time you don’t have to pilgrimage to India, or Australia like we did in 2012, or Libya like in 2006, or Chile like we did in 2021. Famed NASA eclipse predictor Fred Espenak told me he once ran panting at full frantic speed along a dirt road in Africa, trying and succeeding in keeping the eclipsed Sun visible through a tiny opening between moving clouds.
You won’t have to do that. The 2024 Total Solar Eclipse is right here at home.
The Strange Science Behind the Magic
Allow me to wax on. If totality is a knockout, the strange science behind it is no less so. Indeed, here is a case where the science spills over into something approaching witchcraft.
How else to explain that the moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun, but also 400 times nearer to us? This makes the only two disks in our sky appear the same size! It would not be the case if either were larger, smaller, nearer, or farther away.
For early cultures that regarded celestial phenomena as magical to begin with, eclipses lay entirely off the weirdness scale. Some, like the Aztecs and the Babylonians, were obsessive enough to make astoundingly accurate observations that ultimately gave their priests the power of prediction.
The Babylonians noticed that an eclipse with all the same specific traits will exactly repeat after 18 years plus 10 or 11 1/3 days. This observation was amazingly perspicacious, especially since that “1/3 day” business ensured the next eclipse would be best seen (or maybe only seen) in an entirely different region of the world. Babylonians called this period “a Saros.” The ancient Greeks loved that word and concept so much, they embraced it without even changing it to their own language.
The Saros’ “1/3 day” fraction means Earth turns through 120 degrees of longitude for each subsequent event. For the same type of eclipse to again appear in an observer’s region, one has to wait while eclipses work their way around the world like a set of gears, which requires three Saroses. Then those “1/3 day” fractions add up to a full Earth rotation, bringing the spectacle back to the original location albeit with a slight shift. This time period of three Saroses, an important observational interval with the curious name of exeligmos, amounts to 54 years plus 33 days. As this surpassed the usual life span of the Babylonians, it was amazing they noticed the cycle at all.
Best Places to See the 2024 Eclipse
The eclipse on April 8, 2024 is one exeligmos after my first solar totality, witnessed as a college student from Virginia Beach on March 7, 1970. But will the weather cooperate with clear skies as it did that day nearly a lifetime ago?
Looking at the eclipse map, the high-population northeast and upper Midwest is a tempting location where millions live. But long-term satellite data show these regions to suffer from 70% or greater cloud cover averages during April afternoons.
The clearest weather is in the Mexico section of the eclipse path, and it gets progressively less predictable as you travel the path north. But high crime rates there will make many gravitate to the next-clearest zone, which is Texas. You could try to book a hotel or B&B in a town in totality’s path close to the Mexican border up through central Texas.
Or, you could remain near your home but watch the weather forecast the day before and head toward the section of the eclipse path prognosticated to be clearest. Remember, you only need to see the sky for an hour or so. Once in totality’s path you could find a state park or even pull into a mall and park in the most isolated section to set up some folding chairs.
Be sure to allow time for possible traffic jams. In 2017, there were stories of folks stuck on the road during the eclipse; imagine the disappointment. Avoid this by coming out a day early. In 2024, the eclipse is on a Monday so make plans for the long weekend! (Traffic won’t be as bad after totality; few bother to observe the now-anticlimactic hourlong partial eclipse that follows it).
But if you really want to make your best effort, be prepared to travel. Very few are lucky enough to view one effortlessly from their own backyard. Again, no eclipse will touch the U.S. again until August 12, 2045, when totality’s path will sweep across 11 states from northern California to directly over Disneyworld in Florida. After that there will be two only a year apart in 2078 and 2079. You can see the general pattern. Typically a 20-year-wait between opportunities.
It might be a good idea to take the day off from work and catch this one! A bit of bother, sure. But the reward is nothing less than the most amazing thing you have ever seen.