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Set your calendars: Total solar eclipse to sweep over U.S. in one year

If you haven’t seen a total solar eclipse, the thought of someone spending thousands of dollars to fly halfway across the world only for an experience barely two minutes long seems a bit absurd. But if you have seen one, you know why some people live their lives longing for the next one — like the one that will visit the United States next year.

Monday, April 8, 2024, will feature a midday nightfall for tens of millions of Americans. Residents in major cities including Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo and Rochester will see day turn to night for up to four minutes as the moon transits the sun and extinguishes its light. Astrotourists from all around the world will flock to the path of totality, the narrow swath of Earth where the sun is completely blocked, desperate to catch a glimpse of the otherworldly.

It will be the first total solar eclipse to sweep across the country since Aug. 21, 2017, when one traced a path from Oregon to South Carolina. Next year’s will be longer in duration and cover a wider track, making for a darker nightfall and more-spectacular colors.

Missed the solar eclipse? You won’t have to wait too long for the next one.

Before the total solar eclipse next year, there will be an annular solar eclipse on Oct. 14, 2023. The annular eclipse will track from Oregon to Texas and will be visible where skies are clear. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth while farthest away from Earth. Because the moon doesn’t completely obscure the sun (as it does during a total solar eclipse), the periphery of the sun remains visible creating a “ring of fire” effect.

Where to see the eclipse next April

Amid the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, the path of totality will begin nearly 1,000 miles east-northeast of Samoa but, unless you own a yacht, odds are you won’t be watching from there. It arcs across the equatorial Pacific before swinging ashore in Mazatlán in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. It passes over Durango and Coahuila before traversing the Rio Grande and reaching the Edwards Plateau of Texas.

San Antonio and Austin are on the eastern fringe of the path of totality and will experience just a few tens of seconds of darkness. In fact, downtown San Antonio will not experience totality, whereas the city’s northwestern suburbs will experience several minutes of it. SeaWorld San Antonio will luck out with 2 minutes 7 seconds of totality.

The edge of the path of totality is sharp, and subtle movements deeper into the path will nab you more time to enjoy the show. Consider San Antonio’s airport, for example. The east end of the northwest to southeast runway will experience only a partial eclipse, but the other end will get almost a minute of totality. Choose your location wisely.

From there, Dallas will see 3 minutes 50 seconds of totality shortly after lunchtime, and Little Rock is slated for 2 minutes 20 seconds. Indianapolis is also looking at 3 minutes 50 seconds of totality, which will begin shortly before 1 p.m. Central time. Dayton, Toledo and Cleveland are up next, but Columbus is just outside the path.

Erie and Buffalo will be immersed in darkness for roughly 3 minutes 40 seconds each, as will Rochester and Watertown, N.Y. Then the shadow passes over the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, northern New Hampshire and rural northern Maine. On the Canadian side of the border, Montreal will see totality for 1 minute 20 seconds.

A few lucky places that saw the August 2017 total eclipse will see one again in 2024 — notable among them Carbondale, Ill., which has been dubbed the eclipse capital of the United States.

If you’re planning a trip to see the eclipse, consider the weather. Historically, regions farther south and west, like remote parts of Texas, are most predisposed to clear skies. In New England and the Ohio Valley, the weather has historically proved tenuous in early to mid-April, with clouds a real concern.

A much larger area outside the path of totality, encompassing much of North America, will experience a partial solar eclipse. But anyone who has witnessed a total solar eclipse will tell you the difference between the two is — night and day.

Partiality occurs when the moon only partially obscures the sun. You cannot look at the sun without proper eye protection (ISO-certified eclipse glasses, or welding goggles of shade 14 or higher). There won’t be much noticeable change in luminosity (brightness) of the landscape until about 80 percent of the sun is covered by the moon.

Can’t find the protective glasses to watch the solar eclipse? Go old school.

Bailey’s beads will appear moments before totality, right before the moon fully covers the sun. The last hints of sunlight peeking through the valleys of the moon will make for pinpricks of brilliance. They’ll eventually congeal into a single lone beacon known as the diamond ring. Only when that disappears is it safe to remove your protective eyewear — totality has begun.

Totality is the only time the corona of the sun, or the sun’s atmosphere, can be seen from earth. It resembles an elegant lion’s mane, diaphanous and glowing a delicate white. Each hairlike filament is solar material tracing the sun’s magnetic field. It is breathtaking to see.

The corona is hot — close to 2 million degrees Kelvin. That makes it an order of magnitude hotter than the surface of the sun. It isn’t very dense, though, and is made of ionized gases. In fact, it is only about one ten-billionth the density of Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.

The brightness of the sun ordinarily prevents direct observation of the solar corona. That’s why solar eclipses are such a great opportunity for scientists. Science aside, few sights are as spectacular as the solar system splayed out in front of you. There are times it’s difficult not to believe the universe is a sentient being; during a total solar eclipse, one gets to stare it in the eye.

More total solar eclipse viewing opportunities, but not for decades

If you miss the total solar eclipse in 2024, there won’t be another in the contiguous United States until August 2044. The path of totality will cross only a small section of the northern-central part of the Lower 48 — from western North Dakota into Montana — before curving northward into Canada.

The good news is there will be a more widely seen total solar eclipse the following year. On Aug. 12, 2045, a total solar eclipse will traverse the country from coast to coast, similar to August 2017, but wider and farther south, stretching from northern California to central Florida.

The 2045 eclipse will be the United States’ last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse this century. However, five other total solar eclipses will cross smaller sections of the country — in 2052, 2078, 2079, 2097 (visible in Alaska only) and 2099.

Justin Grieser and Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

Read More:Set your calendars: Total solar eclipse to sweep over U.S. in one year