(Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
Three years from today, on Monday, April 8, 2024, more than half a billion people across North America will likely take a few moments from their daily patterns, and gaze into the sky to get a view of one of nature’s great displays: an eclipse of the sun.
And people that are fortunate to be positioned along a narrow route stretching across northern Mexico throughout elements of 15 U.S. countries, there will come the opportunity to what many have begun to predict the most spectacular of celestial roadshows — a total solar panel .
Many readers definitely will remember”The Great American Eclipse of 2017.” That event received considerable media attention and rightly so. This was the first total eclipse of the sun to be visible from the neighboring (48) United States because 1979, the first since 1918 to move from coast-to-coast and the initial total solar eclipse to be visible from the United States from the 21st century. ) Plus it was also the very first time in modern history the path of totality was visible solely from inside the confines of the United States and no other country.
A solar panel spectacle
It was an wonderful experience for everybody who watched the sky suddenly darken to mid-twilight levels and with it, the abrupt appearance of planets and stars in what only minutes earlier was a daytime skies.
Then of course, there was the unbelievable corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun, visible only through those precious moments once the disc of the sun is completely obscured by the moon. And in a few areas around the moon’s dark limb, prominences — pinkish tongues of luminous hydrogen gas — were evident. And since the first rays of appearing sun streaked past the rugged rough edge of the moon, a”diamond ring” was briefly created, signaling an abrupt end to”The Greatest Show on Earth.”
But the best is yet to emerge. For as spectacular as”The Great American Eclipse of 2017″ was, a much better eclipse is on its way into 2024.
“The Great North American Solar Eclipse,” which will commence in Mexico, cross into Texas, then heads northeast into the Ohio River Valley, upstate New York, Quebec, Canada and New England, finally departing the continent during the Canadian Maritimes. And it is not too early to start making plans to see it!
A standout among total eclipses
Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the dark shadow cone of the moon — known as the umbra — from where the spectacle of a total eclipse can be viewed, has swept across portions of the reduced 48 states only 21 times. The duration of totality for these eclipses has ranged from just one moment (April 28, 1930) to an incredibly long five minutes also 20 seconds (June 24, 1778). The average period of totality for many twenty-one cases comes out to be 2 minutes 12 seconds.
For the eclipse of August 21, 2017, the maximum duration of totality lasted two minutes 40 seconds, which was almost a half minute longer than the US average.
But on April 8, 2024, the maximum duration of totality will last as long as 4 minutes and 26 seconds (over southwest Texas). That is 135 minutes more than the US average and 40 percent more compared to the maximum duration of this 2017 eclipse.
In fact, of the 21 preceding totalities that have swept round the current contiguous US boundaries, only two exceed the 2024 eclipse Concerning duration of totality: the above eclipse of 1778 along with the eclipse of June ), 1806 (4 minutes 52 seconds). This latter is famous for the observations produced by José Joaquín de Ferrer, a Spanish astronomer who was the first to coin the expression corona” for the halo of light that surrounds the darkened sun during totality, and by James Fenimore Cooper, who recounted his own experience witnessing this eclipse from Cooperstown, New York in an autobiographical vignette.
The width of the totality path of the 2024 eclipse will also be exceptional: The shadow path for the previous 21 U.S. eclipses averaged about 93 miles (150 kilometers) wide. In 2017, it was about 71 miles (115 km) wide, but in 2024 the path of totality will be considerably larger, measuring 124 miles (200 km) across.
A big audience!
Usually, the path of most total solar eclipses tends to have a perverse habit in sweeping over remote parts of the Earth or over wide stretches of ocean, and avoiding large population centers. Not so in 2024.
In Mexico, the cities of Mazatlán (population 503,000), Durango (pop. 655,000) and Torreon (pop. 735,000) are within the totality path. In the United States, the largest population center will be Dallas, Texas (pop. 1.3 million), followed by Austin (pop. 951,000), Indianapolis, Indiana (pop. 864,000), Cleveland, Ohio (pop. 385,000), Buffalo, New York (pop. 256,000) and Rochester (pop. 207,000).
And there are many other big cities such as San Antonio, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, Louisville, Kentucky, Cincinnati and Columbus in Ohio, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that are less than a few hours’ drive in the zone of totality.
The most significant city that will witness the total eclipse will be in Canada: Montreal, Quebec, (pop. 1.8 million).
Interestingly, over the lower Ohio Valley, the totality avenues of this 2017 and 2024 intersect. Normally, a specific geographic location is treated to some complete solar eclipse approximately once each 375 years. However Carbondale, Illinois — that has christened itself as the”Eclipse Crossroads” town — may experience totality at 2024, less than 7 years after having undergone the entire eclipse of 2017!
According to Canadian meteorologist Jay Anderson, who has spent many years exploring the climatological conditions in advance of forthcoming solar eclipses:”April is a month of transition across the continent, with winter storms gradually giving way to the convective buildups of spring and summer. In Mexico, the winter dry season is in its last month before the summer rains begin. Over the United States, southern parts of the track are already well into the thunderstorm season, while to the north, spring storms and occasional snowfalls still hint of the departing winter. In Maritime Canada, the last of the winter snow has yet to melt and fresh snowfalls are a threat with every weather system.”
The top probabilities of good weather are in Mexico, where calculating coverage ranges everywhere from just around 20%, increasing to right around 50% at the Texas border. Compared to these states, the weather forecast across the United States is marginal, if not downright negative. Climatological records imply that average cloud cover increases from approximately 50- 60percent in Texas, northeast to the Missouri-Illinois border, then jumps to almost 80 percent at the Indiana-Ohio border. Near and across the Great Lakes, cloud cover falls straight back to around 60-65%, until again rising above 80percent to Quebec, northern New England and the Maritimes. It is possible to get additional information in the Eclipsophile website here.
But even in the most pessimistic regions, one need only remember the famous aphorism attributed to science fiction writer, Robert Heinlein:”Climate is what you expect, but weather is what you get!”
Indeed, April weather in the United States and southern Canada is considerably more variable than in Mexico, so that in any location there’s some expectation of very clear heavens on eclipse day.
And as we get nearer to that day, Space.com will offer thorough coverage for potential eclipse chasers, so mark your calendars and stay tuned!
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac along with other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.