April 12, 2024

How to see the solar eclipse

Things get a little crazy on April 8, when a total solar eclipse will darken the skies over North America. The moon will line up perfectly to block the face of the sun. Temperatures will drop around 10 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius). Birdsong changes from day to night songs. And millions of people are expected to take to the roads to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.

The edge has your guide to how to join in the fun.

What exactly happens? And what will I see?

“The moon’s disk is in just the right location, just the right distance to completely cover the sun’s disk. And when that happens, magic happens,” said Patrick Koehn, head of NASA’s heliophysics research and analysis The edge in an interview last October about what has become a big year for heliophysics, or the study of the sun and its influence on Earth and the solar system.

“When that happens, magic happens.”

Within the path of totality, or the locations where the total solar eclipse will be visible on Earth, daytime will briefly look like an early sunrise or sunset, with light levels becoming almost as dark as night.

Just as wonderful is that for us, mere mortals on Earth, this is also the only time that the outer atmosphere of the sun is visible to the naked eye. Koehn describes it as a wispy layer of high-velocity gas coming from the sun. At all other times, the brightness of the sun obscures this corona from our view.

“This is one of — I won’t call it once in a lifetime, but maybe twice in a lifetime opportunities to see something like this,” Koehn says.

In October, an even rarer type of solar eclipse occurred: a so-called ‘ring of fire’. That’s what happens when the moon passes in front of the sun while it is at or near its furthest point in Earth’s orbit. The distance makes the moon appear smaller, so it partially blocks the face of the sun and leaves a ring of fire.

On April 8, the Moon will be close enough to Earth to completely obliterate the Sun. After next week, no new total solar eclipse will be visible from the contiguous US for the next twenty years until August 23, 2044. The last time something like this happened here was on August 21, 2017. But the path of totality was much narrower then, meaning many more people should be able to see the upcoming total solar eclipse.

This time the moon will be closer to Earth than last time, creating a wider path of totality that includes more densely populated areas. That path will be between 170 and 200 kilometers wide next week, giving about 31.6 million people a view from their homes. That’s compared to about 12 million people living within the 60- to 70-mile-wide path of totality in 2017.

Where and when can I see the solar eclipse?

This particular eclipse begins over the southern Pacific Ocean before reaching land near Mazatlán on Mexico’s Pacific coast around 11:07 a.m. PT. From there, it will continue its path across the country before crossing the US and cutting a diagonal path through fifteen states, from Texas to Maine. The boat passes through Canada east of the Great Lakes, with its final stop on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland before leaving the continent at 17:16 NT.

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NASA has a handy “Eclipse Explorer” mapping tool and more information on its website about when the total solar eclipse will be visible from location to location. People in some regions outside the path of totality will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse, which the Eclipse Explorer also explains. Weather will also play a role, and clouds can unfortunately rob some places of good visibility, even if they are in the path of totality. The New York Times has a forecast tool to see how much cloud cover there might be in your area during the eclipse.

Wherever you look, you’ll see it happen in stages, from a partial solar eclipse to a total solar eclipse, where the moon completely blocks the sun. Totality lasts a maximum of 4 minutes and 28 seconds, lasting longest around Torreón, Mexico, and varying between 3.5 and 4 minutes in other locations.

What safety measures should I take?

Be warned: You can burn your retina “quite severely and almost immediately” if you look directly at the sun, Koehn tells us. Totality, those few minutes when the sun is completely blocked by the moon, is the only moment when the risk disappears. During this brief reprieve, NASA says viewers can watch the eclipse without special eye protection. BUT – and this is a big but – protection is necessary immediately before and after the eclipse reaches totality, because watching a partial eclipse can still damage your eyes.

Listen to these wise words from NASA:

Even when 99% of the Sun’s surface (the photosphere) is darkened during the partial phases of an eclipse, the remaining crescent is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn. Please note: there are no pain receptors in the retina, so your retina could be damaged before you realize it, and by then it may be too late to save your sight!

Another important warning: sunglasses won’t help. They can even put you at more risk because they cause your pupils to dilate, which lets in more harmful solar radiation. For a partial solar eclipse you need specially designed solar eclipse glasses. The American Astronomical Society has a list of reliable suppliers. In particular, it does NOT recommend buying the cheapest eyewear on online marketplaces like Amazon. It’s best to make sure the seller is on the list of trusted suppliers before making a purchase online, says the American Astronomical Society.

Alternatively, you can make a makeshift pinhole camera at home using paper or cardboard, tape and aluminum foil (NASA has instructions online).

Where can I watch the solar eclipse online?

NASA will livestream the event starting at 1:00 PM ET. You can watch on the agency’s website or on the NASA Plus streaming service. There will also be Spanish-language coverage on YouTube.

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