People watch the solar eclipse at Saluki Stadium on the campus of Southern Illinois University on … [+]
Exactly four years today millions of people in North America will experience the longest totality of their entire lives. Now that’s something to look forward to—and start planning.
On Monday, April 8, 2024 a rare total solar eclipse lasting a maximum of 4 minutes 28 seconds will be visible from parts of Mexico, the US and Canada as the moon’s central shadow sweeps across the continent in 139 magical minutes.
It will come exactly 6 years, 7 months and 18 days after the “Great American Eclipse” of Monday, August 21, 2017.
“What is most exciting about the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse is that the total phase of eclipse is nearly twice as long as the 2017 eclipse,” said Michael Zeiler, an eclipse cartographer who launched GreatAmericanEclipse.com initially in anticipation of the 2017 total solar eclipse. “Because it is so much longer, the width of the path of totality is also bigger.”
It’s estimated that 215 million Americans saw the 2017 event, though most only saw a partial solar eclipse—a not-very-interesting sideshow, relatively speaking. Only around 12 million experienced a total solar eclipse from the path of totality.
Viewers must be within the path of totality to see experience the remarkable effects unique to totality; dropping temperatures, gathering darkness, exquisite “diamond rings” around the moon, and a chance to see the tenuous white solar corona—the sun’s outer atmosphere—spilling into space. It’s a hypnotically beautiful and addictive experience.
On April 8, 2024 the 100-mile wide path of totality will, during the 139 minutes it’s over land, plunge into a brief and spellbinding darkness parts of Sinaloa, Durango, and Coahuila in Mexico, and in the US, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, tiny slivers of Tennessee and Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
As it moves over Lake Erie and Lake Ontario on the US-Canada border, the shadow will fall on parts of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland.
The path of totality on April 8, 2024.
This eclipse is going to be a much bigger deal than in 2017. “While 12 million people in the United States lived within the path of the 2017 eclipse, 32 million people already reside within the path of the 2024 eclipse,” said Zeiler.
“When you factor in the heightened interest after the 2017 eclipse and the proximity of the eclipse path to the most populated parts of the country, it’s possible that 40 or 50 million Americans will go to see totality.”
That would make it the most watched eclipse in history.
It’s also set to be the longest totality for some time. “Not since July 22, 2009 has a total solar eclipse over four minutes in duration been visible to a major population,” said Zeiler. “There have been several total eclipses since 2009 and before 2024 with a longer duration than four minutes, but only over small islands and remote stretches of ocean.”
For example, the last total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019 peaked at 4 minutes 33 seconds, but only in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. Although there were some lucky eclipse-chasers aboard a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner that raced to keep up with the moon’s shadow (and actually experienced a whopping 8 minute totality), the vast majority had around 2 minutes of totality in Chile and Argentina where the path of totality made land.
On April 8, 2020 the majority of the path of totality is over land.
Total Solar Eclipse, 2017, Grand Tetons National Park , Teton County, Wyoming (Photo by: VW … [+]
VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
So where to watch it? How about beside a lighthouse in Mazatlán on the Pacific coast of Mexico to see “first dark”? Or atop Enchanted Rock in Texas, at Niagara Falls, or with the puffins in Newfoundland as the eclipse exits North America at Canada’s Atlantic coast? “I’m expecting to be in Texas on April 8, 2024 because of the greatest chance of clear skies and longest duration of totality in the USA,” said Zeiler, who thinks San Antonio or Austin will be great base areas.
Eclipse-chasers are, in practice, obsessed with weather, and on E-Day can usually be found with solar eclipse glasses in one hand and car keys in the other. “I’ll be keeping an eagle eye on the weather forecast a few days before,” said Zeiler. “If necessary, I’ll be prepared to dash towards Eagle Pass on the border with Mexico or towards Dallas.”
So we know why to see it and where to see it, but what do we call it? The 2017 eclipse was called the “Great American Eclipse” because it was the first after 38 years—and the first coast to coast eclipse in 99 years—and crossed no other country but the USA. “2024 could be called the “Greater American Eclipse,” or “Great North American Eclipse,” because of the four minute+ duration and the crossing of so many metropolitan areas from Texas to Maine,” said Zeiler.
“After a 38-year total eclipse drought, the United States has the great luck to have twin totalities in 2017 and 2024,” said Zeiler, but they’re not all that North America has on its celestial schedule. There’s also an annular solar “ring of fire” eclipse visible in North America on October 14, 2023. “They’re followed by a total solar eclipses in 2033 in Alaska, 2044 in Montana, and an even longer six-minute total eclipse crossing the nation in 2045,” said Zeiler.
“So 2045 would absolutely be ranked the “Greatest American Eclipse”—you’ll be able to be in the Moon’s shadow in Disney World or Kennedy Space Center. Tough choice!”
That one’s for the long-term planners. However, with just four years to go it’s time to start planning for 2024’s “Greater American Eclipse.”
Disclaimer: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and author of “The Complete Guide To The Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024.”
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.