2024 Solar Eclipse: The 13 Best Places to See the Event

The 2024 solar eclipse is less than one month away, making it the ideal time plan exactly how you’ll see the incredible event. On April 8, a number of cities throughout Mexico, the United States, and Canada will experience brief moments of dawn- or dusk-like darkness right in the middle of the day. The natural phenomenon, known as a total solar eclipse, happens when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth and blocks the entirety of sun’s face. According to NASA, there won’t be another total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States until 2044, making it all the more important to catch this one. Here, AD covers everything you need to know about the upcoming event, including the 13 best cities to experience the eclipse.

What exactly is a total solar eclipse?

There are a number of different types of eclipses, which offer different views of either the sun or moon. As NASA explains it, “A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow on Earth that either fully or partially blocks the sun’s light in some areas.” A total solar eclipse means the moon will completely block the sun’s face, and if you’re in the path of the eclipse, you’ll be able to see the sun’s corona and outer atmosphere, weather permitting. Other types of eclipses, like a partial solar eclipse, occur when the moon covers only some of the sun, resulting in a crescent shape.

A total solar eclipse is seen on a partly cloudy day.

Photo: Pitris/Getty Images

How do people safely watch a total solar eclipse?

Not only are solar eclipses special because of their relative rarity, they’re unique in how they’re watched. For the few minutes when the moon is fully blocking the sun—know as totality—viewers can look directly at the sun without any eye protection. Any other time, including the hours before and after totality when you’ll see a partial eclipse, it’s important to wear protective eye gear, such as solar eclipse glasses. “As soon as you see even a little bit of the bright sun reappear after totality, immediately put your eclipse glasses back on or use a handheld solar viewer to look at the sun,” NASA explains.

How often do total solar eclipses happen?

Solar eclipses, of one kind or another, happen between two and five times a year. Total eclipses happen about once every 18 months. However, this doesn’t mean one will be visible from your home this often. According to the Natural History Museum, London, a total solar eclipse is viewable from any one place about once every 400 years. For example, the last total solar eclipse visible from the United States happened in 2017 and followed a track from Oregon towards South Carolina. This year, the solar eclipse’s path will start in Texas and move northeast towards Maine. The next total solar eclipse will happen in 2026 and will be visible from the Arctic, Greenland, Iceland, and northern Spain.

How long will the total solar eclipses last?

Total solar eclipses can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. The difference in totality length has to do with how far apart the sun, moon, and Earth are at any given time, since the latter two bodies both orbit in elliptical paths.

When the Earth is furthest from the sun—making the star appear smaller—and the moon is closest to the Earth—which makes the moon look big—totality can last for over seven minutes. As Astronomy Mag reports, these circumstances will line up in about 160 years, when a solar eclipse on July 16, 2186, will see almost seven-and-a-half minutes of totality. On the other extreme, if the Earth is at its closest point to the sun and the moon is at its furthest point from Earth, humans won’t see a total solar eclipse, even if all of the celestial bodies are in line. Since totality is all about the perspective of the viewer, this is also why each city will experience the 2024 eclipse differently.

This year, totality will last for a little over four minutes in some areas, which is significantly more than the two minutes that people experienced during the 2017 eclipse. As NASA notes, “During the 2017 total solar eclipse, the moon was a little bit farther away from Earth than it will be during the upcoming total solar eclipse, causing the path of that eclipse to be a little skinnier.” Seven years ago, the path of totality—which shows which parts of the world will be able to see the total solar eclipse—was only about 62 to 71 miles wide. This year, that path ranges from 108 to 122 miles wide. “Meaning at any given moment this eclipse covers more ground,” NASA explains.

How to read maps showing the solar eclipse path

As noted, this year’s path of totality is about 110 miles wide. Cities closer to the center of the path will sustain total darkness longer than those on the edges. In addition to longer totality than in 2017, this year’s path of totality covers more densely populated areas than the previous one. This means more people should be able to experience the total solar eclipse.

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