The Great North American Eclipse Preview

Perhaps the most anticipated natural or scientific event to occur since the advent of this project will cast shadows on Earth on 8 April 2024.

Dubbed the Great North American Eclipse by many, on the afternoon of the second Monday in April, the moon will move between the sun and the Earth. Most of the Western Hemisphere will experience a partial eclipse, where the moon’s disk does not completely cover the sun. For a fortunate sliver of the globe, the eclipse will be total. The moon’s shadow will draw a band approximately 120 miles wide, providing a unique exposition, a show that has awed humans for millennia.

The makeup of a solar eclipse - graphic by Griffith Observatory

The eclipse will commence in the Pacific Ocean, about 230 miles north of the Marquesas Islands, which sit approximately halfway between Australia and the United States. Landfall will occur on the western coast of Mexico, where the totality slice will pass through the states of Sinaloa, Durango, and Coahuila. Mexico then passes the baton to the United States.

Totality will transpire in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Canada gets in on the festivities, too. The provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland will find themselves totally eclipsed.

The Great North American Eclipse will earn its name from the line of totality, as no other continent will experience fullness. The penumbra – the shadow that produces partial eclipses – will pass over parts of Europe, including Svalbard, Iceland, Ireland, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal. Central American nations, those in the Caribbean, and Colombia will also experience the penumbra, as will Hawaii and a slew of other Pacific islands.

The partial eclipse regions, marked in light blue, and the totality slice in darker blue - graphic by NASA
An animation of the eclipse path by A.T. Sinclair
The path through the United States - NASA

This particular eclipse brings with it a large amount of hype. More than 31 million people live within the totality shard in the United States, including more than 12 million in Texas and 7 million in Ohio. Millions of people outside the zone will likely travel to areas with totality.

Many Americans witnessed the last total solar eclipse there, which happened nearly seven years ago. Don’t confuse 2017’s Great American Eclipse with this edition’s Great North American Eclipse. The powers that be are really flexing their creativity muscles with these nicknames. The previous iteration was, arguably, the first total eclipse over major population centers during the height of the social media epoch. So, the 2017 eclipse proliferated on the internet. Reactions, photographs, and videos displayed the celestial show to those of us who could not experience it live, creating an intense yearning to see the next one.

Further, the length of totality during the 2024 eclipse will be relatively long. Due to a handful of factors, total solar eclipses can last anywhere between a fraction of a second to upwards of seven minutes. Scientists calculate an eclipse in 2186 will feature 7 minutes and 29 seconds of totality, the longest known to date. Current conditions limit the maximum amount to 7 minutes and 32 seconds, so anyone alive in a century and a half might be in for quite a treat. 2024’s maximum totality duration will last 4 minutes and 28 seconds near the Mexican town of Durango. The 2017 eclipse, by comparison, clocked a maximum duration of 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

By all reports, encountering a total solar eclipse is a profound, transcendent happening. Guest author Alan R. chronicled his experience at the 2017 event for the newsletter’s Second Anniversary Issue, urging anyone who can see a total eclipse to do so. Day turns suddenly to night. Stars and planets emerge during the daytime. Animals sense something amiss, producing the sounds of twilight. The sun’s corona pops around the moon’s disk with diamond rays. Watch any video of people gathering and the sounds they make will approximate ecstasy.

After 2024, another accessible total solar eclipse will not grace the land of the United States until 2045. Our time on this planet is limited; two decades is a long time. If you live in the path of totality, you have been provided a cosmic gift. If you live near the path of totality, you have been provided with a heavenly opportunity. Many schools have canceled for the day or will run on reduced schedules. If you can take a day off work, it will certainly be worth vacation usage. You might never have a chance to witness this phenomenon again. Grab a pair of eclipse glasses, and get to the path of totality.

Of course, if you missed the show in 2017 and have counted the months and years until 2024’s eclipse, this four-minute window brings a lot of pressure. Running through disaster scenarios – medical emergencies, vehicle breakdowns, or any unforeseen problem – might become a part-time job. This celestial fear of missing out could be the grandest I ever endure. And, of course, there’s the great unknown: the weather.

21 years of satellite cloud data - graphic by Meteocan

Any sort of major precipitation will likely ruin a location’s eclipse. Simple cloud cover can also metaphorically rain on the moon shadow’s parade. Mexico seems to wear the crown for this eclipse’s hotspot. The longest totality and the least amount of historical cloud cover exist south of the border. In Ohio, locals have dismissively predicted clouds for years. The data do not point to surefire hits in this region. Depending on the location, clouds cover anywhere from 50 to 75% of the average sky in April. At first, this fact seems depressingly daunting. Many people booked trips to Texas, in hopes of a better forecast. Texas does, indeed, tout superior averages, but, even there, the cloud cover percentages reside in the 40s and 50s; nowhere is a gimme. Portions of Canada hit the middle 80s! Perhaps April is the cruelest month.

The greatest attribute one can have on April 8 is flexibility. Check weather and cloud predictions as the date nears. If you have a home base selected, be ready to become mobile if the skies go sour. Of course, not everyone can be flexible or have the opportunity to travel to totality. Those who miss the eclipse can watch numerous live streams of the event and imagine the reality.

If you have the means and the chance, gather your loved ones to view this rare event. Though the orbs of the heavens will cause the eclipse, experiencing totality seems to be one of the greatest human experiences. Share the awesome and infrequent happening with friends and family. You might not have another chance.

For more information about totality in your area of choice, view the links below. As the date approaches, pray and hope for cloudless skies!

Further Reading and Exploration

Great American Eclipse – Official Website

2024 Total Eclipse – NASA

2024 ECLIPSE MAPS – National Eclipse

2024 Total Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA (Official Broadcast) – Live Stream

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