At Least 32 Million People Will See The ‘Great North American Eclipse,’ The Most Watched Celestial Event In History

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In almost exactly three years there be will a dramatic total solar eclipse across North America. On Monday, April 8, 2024, those in Mazatlán, Mexico will experience totality—when the Moon blocks the Sun—for a whopping 4 minutes 26 seconds. A moonshadow will then move across the continent enveloping in darkness those in Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo and Burlington.

Hasn’t this all happened before? Yes it has. On Monday, August 21, 2017, a “Great American Eclipse” ripped across the continental U.S. from sea to shining sea—Oregon to South Carolina via Idaho, Wyoming and plenty of other lightly-populated areas. Totality peaked at 2 minutes, 41 seconds in Cerulean, Kentucky.

It’s going to be different in 2024—it’s going to be better … clear skies allowing. On April 8, 2024 it will be possible to experience 4 minutes 26 seconds of totality at Eagle Pass, Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border and 2 minutes 52 seconds as the Moon’s shadow departs the continent at Newfoundland, Canada. 

As well as this total solar eclipse lasting longer, the path of totality will be much wider. In 2017 it was between 60 and 70 miles wide. In 2024 it will be 120 miles wide as it arrives reducing to 100 miles as it departs. 

And this time a lot more people live within it and near that path of totality. 

The path of totality is important because only within its boundary can onlookers experience totality.

That means not only darkness in the day, but phenomenon such as beads of light around the Moon culminating in a “diamond ring” just before and after totality. And during totality it’s possible to see the Sun’s corona—it’s hot, white outer atmosphere that’s usually invisible—with naked eyes.

In short, only if you’re inside the path of totality do you see the Sun as it truly is—and what a breathtaking sight that is.

Either side of “the stripes” you’ll see only a 99% partial solar eclipse, which is—compared to totality—a non-event. Certainly not breathtaking.

“The 2024 total solar eclipse will be seen by many more people than in 2017,” said Michael Zeiler, a Santa Fe-based cartographer and eclipse-chaser who runs GreatAmericanEclipse.com. He thinks that 40-50 million Americans could witness totality this time around. That’s because 32 million Americans live inside 2024’s path of totality compared to 12 million in the 2017 path. “A remarkable circumstance for this eclipse is that the nation’s densely populated northeast metropolitan areas of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Chicago, St. Louis lie within a two or three-hour drive of totality,” he said. 

But city-dwellers will need to be really careful. “Make sure you’re in Dallas and not Fort Worth, and if you’re in Austin or San Antonio you got to make sure you’re in the right part of the city,” said Dan McGlaun, a veteran eclipse chaser who has devised an addictive 2024 eclipse simulator. Cities that will just miss out on totality include Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toronto. 

The best advice is to head for the centreline of the path of totality, which will maximise the duration of totality.

The 15 U.S. states that will experience totality include Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. In Canada it crosses Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. 

However, there is also one distinct disadvantage that eclipse-chasers will have to endure in 2024 as compared to 2017. “The total solar eclipse in 2017 was in the hot month of August while 2024’s is in April so the temperature will be much cooler,” said Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist and eclipse-chaser best known for his work on eclipse predictions. “In general, the weather prospects for much of the 2024 path are not as good as 2017.” 

The best advice? Head south—either to Mexico or to Texas—and stay mobile. After all, they don’t call it “eclipse-chasing” for nothing. 

Disclaimer: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com (@TheNextEclipse on Twitter)

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes. 

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