We're two years away from the Great North American Solar Eclipse of April 8, 2024!
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We’re two years away from the Great North American Solar Eclipse of April 8, 2024!

Book your travel, buy your glasses, and get ready for the show of the decade on April 8, 2024

The Great North American Solar Eclipse will cross the country on April 8, 2024, plunging a 124-mile-wide swath of land from Mexico to Canada into night-like darkness.

First, the crowds gather, spreading out picnic blankets, setting up lawn chairs and stringing up hammocks. There’s a social, even jovial atmosphere until the sunlight begins to dim, and an unnerving shadow seeps across the entire landscape like a rising tide. The chatter quiets as eyes lift to the sky. Finally, the sun is completely consumed by a pitch-black disk, nighttime arrives in the middle of the day, and everyone gasps then cheers.

A total solar eclipse is an awesome spectacle, and many people travel from all over the world to see it. The United States witnessed its first total solar eclipse in nearly 40 years in 2017, with an amazing 88 percent of people in the country turning out to see the show.

The next one is now on the horizon. The Great North American Solar Eclipse will nearly split the country two years from now, on April 8, 2024, plunging a 124-mile-wide swath of land stretching from Mexico to Canada into night-like darkness.

Two years might seem like a long time away, but given the popularity of total solar eclipses, it’s just about time to start making viewing plans, especially if you plan on traveling for the event.

What is a total solar eclipse, anyway?

Let’s break this question down into three parts. An eclipse occurs when the Earth, sun, and moon are aligned so that one celestial body casts a shadow onto the other.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon travels between the sun and the Earth, causing its shadow to move across the Earth’s surface – the sun seems to darken from locations within that shadow.

A total solar eclipse is when the moon is just the right distance away from the Earth that it blocks the entirety of the sun. (An annular eclipse, on the other hand, occurs when the moon is farther away from the Earth and so does not completely block the sun.)

Why is the Great North American Total Solar Eclipse of 2024 a big deal?

The moon’s shadow during a total solar eclipse, as seen from the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA)

Total eclipses aren’t altogether that rare, occurring approximately every 18 months. However, because the moon’s shadow is so small when projected onto the Earth, only a small portion of the world is affected by any one eclipse. A total solar eclipse happens once every 375 years on average in a specific location.

So not only is it somewhat uncommon for the United States to experience a total solar eclipse — it’s only seen 21 of them since the country was founded in 1776 — but it’s also very uncommon for a total solar eclipse to have such a long path across a wide section of the country. The previous cross-country total solar eclipse occurred in 1918, prior to the 2017 eclipse. And after the 2024 eclipse, a cross-country total solar eclipse won’t happen again until 2045.

The eclipse will also last longer and cast a wider shadow than the 2017 eclipse, meaning it’ll be more easily viewed by more people.

When is the solar eclipse?

The Great North American Total Solar Eclipse of 2024 will begin at 10:51 a.m. local time on April 8, 2024, near Mazatlán, Mexico. The eclipse will begin at 4:07 p.m. local time in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, as it moves northeast across the continent.

Please keep in mind that those periods are for the partial eclipse, when the moon begins to cross in front of the sun. The best show, though, comes during totality, when the moon completely covers the sun and the sky darkens. Totality will last up to 4 minutes and 26 seconds during the 2024 eclipse, which will occur over central Texas about 1:30 p.m. local time.

Where can I see the eclipse?

This chart shows the path of the total solar eclipse of April 8, 2024. (Image credit: GreatAmerianEclipse.com)

Though the majority of the lower 48 states will be able to see a partial eclipse, the line of totality will pass through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Make sure you’re along the path of totality for the best viewing.

Though the 2024 eclipse is still two years away, it’s a good idea to start looking for accommodations now because hotels and vacation rentals are anticipated to fill up quickly within the path of totality.

How can I see the solar eclipse?

Don’t forget to never look directly at the sun, and especially not through a telescope or other viewing instrument, without proper protection such as solar glasses. (Image credit: Getty)

When observing solar eclipses, the most crucial rule is to wear special glasses certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Never look directly at the sun without sufficient eye protection, as this might cause irreversible damage to your eyes. The exception is when the moon totally covers the sun during totality, in which case it is safe to look at the sun without glasses.

Once you’ve got your eyewear, all you have to do is go to the path of totality during the eclipse and look up. Look for special programming put on by museums, libraries, and schools.

If you are unable to go to the path of totality, you may be able to witness a partial eclipse – if you look at the sun through your eclipse glasses, the sun will appear to have a chunk taken out of it, but the sky will not darken as much as it will during totality.

Furthermore, the eclipse will most likely be live-streamed by observatories around North America, allowing you to see the show from the comfort of your own home.

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