How to see the April total solar eclipse in the US

Paul Maley has spent much of his life chasing solar eclipses.

He witnessed 83 solar eclipses between 1960 and 2023. On April 8, he plans to see the 84th aboard a cruise ship in Mexico, located right on the path of totality – the path where the moon completely blocks the sun.

“It's more eclipses than anyone, living or dead,” he said proudly.

But millions of Americans will also get the chance to see the next solar eclipse. The celestial spectacle will be visible in North America – weather permitting – to approximately 31.5 million people living in the path of totality, including a long stretch across the US. The rest of the continental United States, as well as parts of Alaska and Hawaii, will be able to see a partial solar eclipse.

Maley's search for the phenomenon has taken him all over the world: from icy Antarctica to the Cocos Islands off the west coast of Australia. Some experiences were nerve-wracking, such as a trip to Turkey in 1999 during a period of unrest when military police filled the streets, Maley said.

Others were blissfully simple. A trip to watch a partial solar eclipse with his wife — which doesn't cause nearly the same fuss as a total solar eclipse (more on that later) — ended with a party for two at a Dunkin Donuts.

Maley, 76, says these trips are a bit of an obsession for him. But they also provide an escape and are an easy way to put your place in the universe into perspective, he said.

“No matter how many things are screwed up in this world, whether political, military or economic, no one can change what happens in the sky when it comes to a solar eclipse,” he said. “It is going to happen. You can't do anything about it, so you might as well go there and enjoy it and free yourself from all the problems you are facing.

What happens during a total solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, completely obscuring the face of the sun and casting a shadow on Earth. For people viewing the eclipse from locations where the moon's shadow completely blocks the sun, known as the path of totality, the sky will darken.

Depending on weather and visibility, people along the path of totality will see the Sun's corona, the outer part of the Sun's atmosphere, which is typically obscured by the Sun's brightness. Just before totality, viewers can also see flashes of light – known as Baily's beads – along the moon's circumference.

A rapid drop in temperature usually occurs during a total solar eclipse. Sometimes birds fall silent and nocturnal animals wake up abruptly, mistaking the brief phenomenon for nightfall.

The phenomenon has also appeared – and had various interpretations – in religious texts. Some indigenous peoples have traditions they observe – such as abstaining from food – during solar eclipses.

The last total solar eclipse to cross the United States was in August 2017. According to NASA, it was the first total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous US in 38 years. The April eclipse will be the last visible in the Lower 48 until August 23, 2044.

When will this total solar eclipse occur and who can see it?

The eclipse begins over the South Pacific and moves diagonally across Mexico, the United States and Canada. Mexico's Pacific coast will be the first location in continental North America to experience totality around 11:07 a.m. PDT. The eclipse will enter the United States in Texas and work its way through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. A map on NASA's website displays an estimated time when each location on the path of totality will see the solar eclipse.

While more than 30 million Americans will have the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse, most will only see a partial solar eclipse, which happens when the moon passes between the sun and Earth but all three bodies don't align perfectly stand in one line, as is the case on either side of the path of totality. Instead of being completely eclipsed, the sun will be shaped like a crescent moon.

The maximum duration of totality along the eclipse path will be 4 minutes and 28 seconds, although this will likely be shorter in most locations.

Why does this happen and how often?

Solar eclipses occur because, as the Earth revolves around the Sun, the Moon revolves around the Earth. As the moon makes a complete trip around Earth, it moves between the sun and Earth about every 28 days, says Nick DiFrancesco, an assistant professor of geology at the University at Buffalo.

But eclipses don't happen every 28 days.

“The three factors that influence whether or not a solar eclipse will occur are the alignment of the Earth, the Moon and the Sun, the tilt or inclination of the Moon's orbit around the Earth, and the last thing that is essentially , is how close to Earth the moon is,” DiFrancesco said.

These factors must align perfectly to get a total solar eclipse.

How to get the best viewing experience

People often travel to the path of totality to experience the total solar eclipse with their own eyes. Eclipse hunters will tell you this is the only way to do it. There are even travel guides that plan complete vacations focusing on the solar eclipse.

This year, Maley helped organize a cruise for about 200 people to see the solar eclipse in Mexico. He also helped put together a trip for eclipse chasers to an all-inclusive beachfront hotel in Mazatlan, Mexico, which will include expert talks in addition to the viewings.

Even the popular travel website Expedia has put together vacation packages for the solar eclipse. The US National Park Service has done that posted tips about which parks are best located to view the solar eclipse.

No matter how you look at it, experts say you need to plan ahead. Cities in the path of totality expect an influx of visitors and major traffic jams as people flock to those communities to catch a glimpse of the scientific wonder.

The weather can also affect visibility. Experts recommend keeping an eye on the forecast and being flexible enough to move from your original location to one with less cloud cover if necessary.

And while you're unlikely to need much equipment to view the solar eclipse, there is one must-have: adequate eye protection. You can buy solar viewing glasses, also called eclipse glasses, online. Experts recommend making sure the glasses meet the requirements ISO 12312-2 standard for solar binoculars and to inspect them for any damage before viewing the eclipse.

NASA experts say a quick way to do this is to take out your phone's flashlight and shine it on the glass lens. If they provide enough protection, you can only see a little light.

Maley may be biased, but he says there's no substitute for seeing an eclipse in person.

“It's something that needs to be seen. The photos that people have taken, including myself, never do it justice, and even the videos are all two-dimensional,” he said. “It's just something that can't be accurately conveyed to people unless they're in the same place experiencing it with you.”

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