By: Devorah Lev-Tov | From: National Geographic
It was 2:38 p.m. on August 21, 2017, when day turned to night. That was the precise moment in Greenville, South Carolina, when the moon, passing between the sun and Earth, fully blocked our view of the sun.
Birds squawked in weird intonations, a few stars dotted a purplish sky, and the temperature felt like it dropped several degrees. I took my protective glasses off—something you can only do during totality—and was awestruck to see the sun’s corona flaring around the moon. Feeling euphoric, I finally understood why so-called eclipse chasers travel the world in pursuit of them.
When I learned the next solar eclipse in North America would be on April 8, 2024, I knew I would have to see it. Here’s what I learned about where and how best to experience this celestial wonder, which won’t occur again in the continental U.S. until 2044.
What to know about the 2024 eclipse
The April 8, 2024, eclipse will in some ways be better than the 2017 one. “It’s a long one, with over four minutes of totality. Because of the length of duration, it’s going to get much darker than in 2017 during totality,” says Bob Baer, a specialist at the School of Physics and Applied Physics at Southern Illinois University and co-chairperson of Southern Illinois Eclipse 2017-2024 Steering Committee. “The sun is very active now and will likely produce a corona larger than we saw in 2017, when we were in a period of low solar activity.”
As the moon blocks the sun’s light, it casts a shadow, creating a trail as Earth rotates. This shadow trail is called the path of totality. In the hours before and after the total eclipse, a partial eclipse is viewable, with the moon partially obscuring the sun. You must wear protective eclipse glasses when viewing a partial eclipse. Any locations outside the narrow path of totality will only see a partial eclipse.
On April 8, the total solar eclipse will occur across a band of North America, including parts of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The path of totality, which looks like a narrow arc on a map of North America, will enter the U.S. in Texas at 1:27 p.m. Central Daylight Time, going through parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The eclipse then arrives in Canada via southern Ontario and continues through Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. The eclipse exits continental North America on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16 p.m. Newfoundland Daylight Time.
Where to see the eclipse
“Make sure you pick a spot directly in the path of totality,” says Ryan French, solar physicist at the National Science Foundation’s National Solar Observatory and author of The Sun: Beginner’s Guide to Our Local Star. “In general, the closer you are to the center of that path, the longer you’ll experience totality.”
Check the weather
“The second thing to consider is the weather,” says French. “Pick a spot along the path likely to be cloud-free in early April.” Most scientists agree that Mexico and Texas are most likely to have the best weather. “The worst weather statistics along the path of totality are in Quebec, with less than a 15 percent chance of clear skies on the day,” says French.
“Partially cloudy is not a bad outlook for eclipse viewing, but overcast is not good at all,” Baer says. “Clouds can add an interesting element during an eclipse, as long as you can still see the sun, which you can through thin clouds or in between thicker clouds.” At the eclipse event he is organizing in Carbondale, Illinois—which is in the path for the second time after also experiencing the 2017 eclipse—they will show live TV broadcasts from other destinations in the event of bad weather in Carbondale.
Large city or small town?
Deciding to view the eclipse at a large city versus a small town or rural area depends on your preference. While big cities have better infrastructure, more accommodations, and are more accessible via car or plane, they will also have larger crowds.
The best destination may depend on any number of factors. “Will there be a picturesque view? Will there be trees to project the shape of the crescent sun on the ground? Will there be animals around that react to the eclipse themselves? Any combination of these things will enhance the unforgettable experience for you,” says French.
“I encourage people to go to educational-based venues to see eclipses, such as a college campus, science center, museum, or planetarium, and I especially recommend this for families,” says Baer. “For people who are into nature and want a more private experience, seeing it in a natural area is also great. The bottom line is, see it, and enjoy it in the way that you want to.”
Plan ahead. Or not.
Once you choose your destination, book transportation, accommodation, and any festivals or events you want to attend as early as possible. But if you’re flexible and like to live on the edge a bit, says eclipse guide Paul D. Maley, “check the long-range weather about five days beforehand and see where the weather is predicted to be clear on April 8. If you can, get to that location by any means possible, but by car would give the best advantage. That way, you’ll maximize your mobility, especially if the forecast changes at the last minute.”
Either way, order your ISO-approved eclipse glasses in advance. Additionally, plan to arrive at your chosen destination at least one or more days prior to April 8, and expect traffic delays.
Be safe and aware during totality
To prevent eye damage during the partial eclipse phase, you must wear eclipse glasses before and after totality. “As you see the moon’s edge encroaching on the final thin crescent of the sun—get ready,” advises French. “As soon as the sun vanishes from your solar glasses, whip them off and enjoy the view.”
Maley recommends using binoculars during totality “to view the sun, which gives a closer view of the small, reddish jets of hydrogen suspended at the edge of the sun’s disc.” He also advises, “Do not spend 100 percent of your time attempting to photograph the eclipse. Always allow your eyes and brain to take in as much of the magic as possible.”
Most hotel rooms: Texas
Texas has three of the largest cities in the path of totality: San Antonio (but only half of it is actually in the path), Dallas, and Austin. These cities’ massive sizes mean they are prepared for the influx of eclipse visitors, including having plenty of hotel rooms.
San Antonio has more than 50,000 hotel rooms and has dubbed its celebrations Fiesta del Sol. The city has a plethora of unique viewing sites, from a brewery to caverns to an amusement park. La Cantera Resort & Spa is a 550-acre oasis atop one of the highest points in San Antonio. The resort is partnering with the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Department of Physics and Astronomy for an educational experience package for guests.
Austin is home to more than 49,000 hotel rooms, including Hotel Viata, which is offering an eclipse-themed spa package, guided meditation, and sound bath activities, and an astronomer-led dinner party on April 7.
Dallas has more than 35,000 hotel rooms, including the Marriott Dallas Downtown, which will host an exclusive viewing party on its rooftop. Once you’ve figured out where to stay, check out viewing sites like the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the rooftop of music venue Gilley’s, Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, and the Frontiers of Flight Museum.
Plenty of smaller Texas towns are also in the path of totality, and Texas’ generally sunny weather makes it an attractive choice. French himself will be watching the eclipse from the town of Eagles Pass.