Everything you need to know about 2024's total solar eclipse

There's a trick to figuring out the optimal viewing site. Here's what you need to know to plan

By Troy Farah

Science & Health Editor
Published April 27, 2023 11:59AM (EDT)
Updated March 18, 2024 11:25AM (EDT)
Total Solar Eclipse (Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Total Solar Eclipse (Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This article originally published in 2023 and has been updated with current information.

April 8, 2024 will be an unforgettable day for many people in North America, as the shadow of a total solar eclipse will bisect the continent like a black marker line. The sight of a total solar eclipse, when viewed on the line of totality (meaning where the sun is fully eclipsed by the Moon), is often touted as one of the most transcendent experiences a human being can have. They are also relatively rare, with about one a year or less and only in very small portions of the planet. 

The experience will be disappointing if it is overcast when it is time for the total solar eclipse — meaning that you have to cross-check travel plans with historical weather reports.

Eclipse hunters have a rule-of-thumb about solar eclipses: partial solar eclipses are worth an hour's drive to go see. Annular eclipses, in which the sun appears to rings the Moon perfectly, are worth one day's travel to see. And a total solar eclipse is worth any and all effort to go and observe. 

Hence, dedicated eclipse hunters get ready for these events years, even decades in advance. As April fast approaches, here's what you need to know to prepare for this spectacular celestial event.

Unlike other vacations, solar eclipses are a little more tricky to plan for. First, eclipses often are visible only in remote parts of the world, or even the ocean, where there are few hotels. Second, you have to plan to be somewhere along the line of totality to see the total solar eclipse — if you're not, you'll only see a partial solar eclipse. The reason has to do with the angle of the sun and Moon relative to where you are on Earth.

Third, different parts along the line of totality will experience different durations of totality — meaning the length of time during which the eclipse is total. Longer, of course, is better.

And finally, clouds can ruin the eclipse: the experience will be disappointing if it is overcast when it is time for the total solar eclipse — meaning that you have to cross-check travel plans with historical weather reports.

All of this makes planning where and how to see a total solar eclipse a careful calculus — with the fifth variable being budget, of course. Hence, the 2024 solar eclipse passes through three different countries with three different currencies and different relative costs of lodging.

Specifically, the April 2024 solar eclipse will stretch across Mexico, the United States and Canada in a long, narrow arch going from southwest to northeast, thanks to the Moon passing directly in front of the Sun, casting a tremendous shadow approximately 120 miles wide. It will pass over many major cities, starting in Mazatlan and Durango, Mexico; then Austin, Little Rock, Cleveland and Buffalo in the U.S.; and Montréal's suburbs in Canada. The length of the eclipse varies by location, with the longest duration being near Torreón, Mexico at 4 minutes and 27 seconds.

The website eclipse2024.org features a simulator in which you can enter any location and get a sense of what the sky will look like on April 8. Of course, any visibility is dependent on the weather. Fun fact: In 1778, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter that he was "much disappointed" in the solar eclipse that occurred while he was in Virginia, "which proved to be cloudy."

Book hotels in advance

And don't be like President Donald Trump in 2017, who stared directly at the partial solar eclipse without any eye protection, to the chagrin of his aides who tried to stop him.

Some people literally travel all over the world, catching eclipses wherever they can. For example, Dan McGlaun, the creator of the aforementioned eclipse simulator, has seen 14 total solar eclipses in his life. While a total eclipse in North America is a relatively rare event — the last one was in 2017, but the one before that was in 1979 — they do occur around the globe at semi-regular intervals, so for those extreme eclipse enthusiasts with the travel budget, they become much more frequent.

The combination of eclipse veterans with tons of other folks eager to not miss this event means hotels will be booked well in advance. The anticipated tourism will invite plenty of price-gouging, as many experienced in 2017. And local officials are also anxious about chaos, with Ohio adding $1 million to their state budget for security, for example. So you can expect this to be crowded and not cheap. But… the next total solar eclipse that will cover this much of the United States won't be until 2045.

Get good glasses

Hopefully people don't need a reminder not to stare at the sun, but if so, here it is: don't stare at the sun.

Not even through a telescope or camera lens, unless you have a specialized solar filter. It can literally blind you. To watch a solar eclipse without burning holes in your retinas, there are several ways, but whichever you choose, you'll want to get your eyegear well in advance. No sense scrambling for protection at the last moment.

Many companies will be selling eclipse glasses, which are specially polarized lenses that are much darker than sunglasses. Regular sunglasses are not safe for viewing a solar eclipse.

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But if you buy eclipse glasses, ensure that they comply with ISO 12312-2 international safety standards, which is the level of darkness on the lenses. There are counterfeits out there as well, because of course there are, so make sure you purchase your glasses from a reputable vendor. You only get one set of eyes.

There are other ways of viewing a solar eclipse safely, including wearing a welding mask (if you happen to keep one laying around or know someone who does). According to the U.S. National Park Service, you must ensure that that the welding glasses or hood houses a #14 or darker shade filter. If you don't know or if it is anything less, don't risk it, and keep in mind that most welders don't use filters that dark. And don't be like President Donald Trump in 2017, who stared directly at the partial solar eclipse without any eye protection, to the chagrin of his aides who tried to stop him. 

Once the sun passes behind the Moon, you can take off those glasses and look directly at it because, well, the sun isn't there anymore. At this moment, the sky will turn from light blue to dark blue-black, and you will be able to suddenly see a few stars in the sky along with the planet Mercury. 

Double-check weather patterns

Historical weather data is a great aide when it comes to figuring out where to travel. For instance, Montréal, Quebec has a 56% chance of cloud cover during the month of April, which means it's probably not a great place to be — you don't want to be disappointed like Thomas Jefferson was. You can find historic overcast averages for a given city on websites like Weather Underground, AccuWeather and Weather Spark.

Get as close to the center of the line of totality as possible

Eclipses are short and sweet; the longest possible total solar eclipse you could witness in 2024 is just under 4 and a half minutes. But if you are at the edge of the line of totality, as, say, the city of Montréal is, the actual length of time that you get to witness totality could be mere seconds. That could make for a very anticlimactic experience for those who've traveled long and far to witness it, only to see the sun flicker out and then back on seconds later.

You can figure out how long the duration of totality is by entering the city you plan to visit on NASA's JavaScript Solar Eclipse Explorer, then click the century 2001-2100. For example, Cleveland, Ohio will experience a totality lasting 3 minutes and 49 seconds.

Don't miss the 2023 annular eclipse either

Even if you can't make it to the path of totality, a partial solar eclipse will still be visible across the continent. While the experience won't be as immersive as witnessing a total solar eclipse, it still offers a unique opportunity to observe and appreciate the sun and the Moon. Particularly with solar binoculars or the aforementioned welding goggles, it can be a fun experience — in a partial eclipse, the sun appears to have a giant "bite" taken out of it by the Moon.

Additionally, there will be an annular eclipse later in 2023. There are technically four different type of eclipses, with total eclipses being the most well-known and emotionally stirring, according to many accounts. Annular eclipses are when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, but when it is at or near its farthest point from Earth. Therefore, it appears smaller and doesn't fully cover the sun. It still looks quite cool (as long as you are wearing protective glasses), and the last one that crossed North America was October 14, 2023.

By Troy Farah

Troy Farah is a science and public health journalist whose reporting has appeared in Scientific American, STAT News, Undark, VICE, and others. He co-hosts the drug policy and science podcast Narcotica. His website is troyfarah.com and can be found on Twitter at @filth_filler

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