What is a Solar Eclipse?

Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 — a date worth marking on your calendar.
Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 — a date worth marking on your calendar.
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By Joe Rao 

The Old Farmer’s Almanac 

Experience the awe-inspiring beauty of a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 — a date worth marking on your calendar. Better yet, consider planning a vacation around this celestial phenomenon. For optimal viewing conditions, our recommendation is to head to the Southwest, where the likelihood of clear skies is high. If you live in Texas, consider yourself fortunate, as you may not need to travel far! 

(Note: Unfortunately, for the Los Angeles area, the maximum eclipse will only cover 49% of the sun. That is expected to happen at 11:12 a.m.) 

The path of totality begins in Mexico and runs northeast — across the United States — into Canada, specifically Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. 

The next chance to witness a total solar eclipse in North America won’t happen until March 2033 – and that one requires travel to western Alaska. Following that, the wait extends to August 2044, when this spectacular celestial event graces parts of western Canada, Montana and North Dakota. 

Many places across North America will experience a partial eclipse, only those within a 125-mile-wide path will experience a truly brilliant cosmic performance. (Even in Toronto, where 99.8% of the Sun will be obscured, the tiniest dot of remaining sunlight will spoil the view.)

 

What Makes a ‘Total’ Solar Eclipse Special? 

A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon entirely obscures the Sun, transforming day into night. As the sky darkens, stars illuminate the surroundings, creating a captivating spectacle. What distinguishes this celestial event is the emergence of the otherwise unseen outermost rays of the Sun, known as the corona. 

These rays radiate around the Moon, resembling a colossal halo of light that extends into space, reaching a distance up to five times the Sun’s diameter. While other types of eclipses may cast shadows and dim the sky, none quite match the awe-inspiring and otherworldly effect generated by a total solar eclipse.

 

Eclipse Chasers 

Some fans, often called “eclipse chasers,” really go the extra mile, setting up holiday plans and traveling far and wide to see as many eclipses as they can. This hobby needs a lot of commitment, since the Moon’s shadow sometimes falls over places that are remote and not easy to live in. You might wonder, why bother going on a trip just to see a total eclipse? The reason becomes obvious once you see it with your own eyes! (But don’t forget to put on the right kind of protective glasses.)

 

A Bite Out Of The Sun? 

Just a bit more than an hour before the grand finale, the total phase, the Moon will slip into place between the Sun and Earth. Picture it embarking on a leisurely journey across the Sun’s surface, creating the illusion of a cosmic bite being taken from our star — until the Sun seems to vanish entirely! Intriguingly, this celestial ballet prompted many cultures across the globe to conjure up tales of mythic beasts feasting on the Sun during an eclipse.

 

Strange, Flickering Shadows 

Right before the total phase starts, the Sun turns into just a slim sliver of light. At this point, the Moon’s shadows on Earth look really special, unlike normal shadows. They show up as stripes of black and white, switching back and forth every couple of inches, making a sort of shimmering pattern on the ground. 

These are called “shadow bands,” and they’re these cool light patterns that happen because the little bit of sunlight squeezing past the Moon just before and right after a total eclipse gets bent as it moves through the air. (This bending is the same reason stars seem to twinkle in the night sky.)

 

Get Ready For The Diamond Ring Effect! 

Right before everything goes dark during an eclipse, the last bits of sunlight that you can see around the Moon look like tiny dots or little ovals. These are known as “Baily’s Beads.” They seem to dance around, sometimes joining up or stretching out. This bizarre effect happens because of the way sunlight streams through the Moon’s uneven surface (the mountains and valleys at the edge). 

At the same time, you can start to see the Sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona, shining around the Moon’s dark shape. And then, for a few seconds, something amazing happens: One of those dots of sunlight sticks around, shining bright like a diamond. This creates a beautiful effect, like a giant diamond ring is floating in the sky.

  

Day Becomes Night 

As the last bit of light disappears, the Sun’s glow seems to suddenly vanish in complete silence, like everything’s been sucked into space. In those quick moments, the Sun’s inner atmosphere, the chromosphere, lights up with a beautiful red glow around the dark Moon, making a circle that looks like a bright red ring. Right after this stunning sight, you’ll see a soft glow, the corona, shining as bright as a full Moon. 

The corona changes every time there’s an eclipse. It can look smooth and calm, or sometimes it sends out long beams in different directions. You might see it as straight lines sticking out from the Sun or ending in soft, brush-like shapes. Each time, it’s like a new work of art in the sky.

April’s Pink Moon will appear on Tuesday, April 23. It reaches peak illumination at 7:49 p.m. ET.
April’s Pink Moon will appear on Tuesday, April 23. It reaches peak illumination at 7:49 p.m. ET.

April’s Pink Moon 

April’s Pink Moon will appear on Tuesday, April 23. It reaches peak illumination at 7:49 p.m. ET. The full moon names used by The Old Farmer’s Almanac come from Native American, Colonial American and European sources. It is not pink, but the name honors the start of Spring and the pink moss phlox.

 

April Moon Facts and Folklore 

On April 20, 1972, the lunar module of Apollo XVI landed on the moon with astronauts John Young and Charles Duke aboard. Thomas Mattingly remained in orbit around the moon aboard the command module.  

One day later, on April 21, 1972, Apollo XVI astronauts John Young and Charles Duke drove an electric car on the surface of the moon. It’s still up there, along with some expensive tools and some film that they forgot. 

According to folklore, the period from the full Moon through the last quarter of the Moon is the best time for killing weeds, thinning, pruning, mowing, cutting timber, and planting below-ground crops. 

­— The Farmer’s Almanac

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