The April total solar eclipse will occur in a month. Here’s why it’s worth watching and how to stay safe

By | March 12, 2024

The sun is about to disappear again across North America, turning day into night during a total solar eclipse.

The peak spectacle on April 8 will last up to 4 minutes and 28 seconds in the path of total darkness – twice as long as the total solar eclipse that darkened the US sky in 2017.

This eclipse will follow a different and more populated route, coming in over the Pacific coast of Mexico, sweeping through Texas and Oklahoma, and criss-crossing the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and New England before passing through Eastern Canada. into the Atlantic Ocean.

An estimated 44 million people live within the 115-mile-wide path of totality that stretches from Mazatlán, Mexico to Newfoundland; about 32 million of them are in the US, guaranteeing jam-packed roads for the must-see celestial thrill.

The eclipse will allow many to share in the “wonder of the universe without going far,” said Kelly Korreck, manager of NASA’s eclipse program.

Here’s what you need to know about the April extravaganza and how to prepare:

What happens during the total solar eclipse?

The moon will line up perfectly between the Earth and the sun, obscuring sunlight. It will cut a diagonal line from southwest to northeast across North America, briefly plunging communities along the track into darkness.

Fifteen US states will get a piece of the action, although two of them – Tennessee and Michigan – will hardly benefit.

Among the cities you’ll be right in the middle of the action: Dallas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Cleveland; Buffalo, New York; and Montreal – which makes for the continent’s largest eclipse crowd.

Don’t worry if you don’t have front row seats. Almost everyone on the continent can see at least a partial solar eclipse. The further away from the path of totality it is, the smaller the moon’s bite from the sun will be. In Seattle and Portland, Oregon, about as far away as you can get in the continental US, a third of the sun is gobbled up.

Why is totality longer?

In a cosmic stroke of luck, the moon will make its closest approach to Earth the day before the total solar eclipse. That means the moon is only 223,000 miles (360,000 kilometers) away on the day of the eclipse.

That proximity will make the moon appear slightly larger in the sky, resulting in a particularly long period of sun-blocked darkness.

Furthermore, the Earth and moon will be 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from the sun that day, the average distance.

When a closer moon and a farther away sun come together, totality can last an astonishing 7 1/2 minutes. The last time the world saw more than seven minutes of totality was over Africa in 1973. That won’t happen again until 2150 over the Pacific Ocean.

How can I watch the solar eclipse safely?

Sunglasses are not enough. Special eclipse glasses are critical for safely observing the sun as the moon marches across the late morning and afternoon sky, covering more and then less and less of our star.

During totality, when the sun is completely shrouded, it’s okay to take off your glasses and look with your naked eyes. But before and after, certified eclipse glasses are essential to prevent eye damage. Make sure they are not scratched or torn.

Cameras, binoculars and telescopes must be equipped with special solar filters for safe vision. Bottom line: Never look at the sun any day of the year without proper protection.

Where are there Eclipse Watch parties near me?

Cities up and down the path of totality host star parties. Festivals, races, yoga retreats, drum circles and more will take place at museums, fairgrounds, parks, stadiums, wineries, breweries and even one of Ohio’s oldest drive-in movie theaters and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Besides looking up, you can attend a “space ball” in the Texas Hill Country, get married in eclipse-themed ceremonies in Tiffin, Ohio, and Russellville, Arkansas, or brush up on the history of moonwalking at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio – the birthplace of Neil Armstrong.

As the eclipse unfolds, NASA will launch small rockets carrying scientific instruments into the upper atmosphere from Virginia and chase away the shadow of totality from high-altitude aircraft. Satellites and the International Space Station crew will attempt to capture the show from space.

There will be numerous live streams for those stuck in the clouds or off the trail.

When is the next total solar eclipse?

Complete solar eclipses occur every year or two or three, often in the middle of nowhere, such as the South Pacific or Antarctica. The next total solar eclipse, in 2026, will grace the northern edges of Greenland, Iceland and Spain.

North America won’t experience totality again until 2033, with Alaska facing some problems. Then that’s it until 2044, when totality will be limited to Western Canada, Montana and North Dakota.

There won’t be another U.S. solar eclipse until 2045, coast to coast. It will extend from Northern California all the way to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Aside from Carbondale, Illinois, in the crosshairs of both the 2017 and 2024 eclipses, it usually takes 400 to 1,000 years for totality to return to the same spot, NASA’s Korreck said.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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