“In rating natural wonders, on a scale of 1 to 10, a total eclipse of the Sun is a million.”
-An observer who has seen 27 total solar eclipses
The next total solar eclipse in North America will occur on April 8, 2024. It's time to get excited and secure a pair of eclipse glasses!
Ancient peoples throughout the world revered the sky and labored to understand the motions of celestial bodies. Stonehenge is a testament to this innate impulse shared by the Mayans, Babylonians, Chinese, and every other ancient civilization. The Babylonians could predict solar and lunar eclipses more than 2,500 years ago, and eclipse mythology permeates the stories of every tribe. A total solar eclipse is a rare and exciting astronomical event. Approximately once every 18 months (on average) a total solar eclipse is visible from some place on the Earth’s surface. Since the track of a solar eclipse is a very narrow path over the Earth's surface, averaging only 60 or 70 miles in width, it occurs in a given place about once every 360 years. Solar eclipses strike awe in all who view them and have even changed the course of history, as armies were either energized or terrified in their shadow. Fighting has ceased and peace treaties have been signed in their wake.
A total solar eclipse is among the most glorious sights the Heavens provide, and there will be a spectacular total solar eclipse passing across North America on April 8, 2024. I plan to travel to a location in the path of totality. It will be a place where the weather forecast projects no clouds for that day. I will be with a group of friends and we will be waiting, talking, laughing, eating and drinking in an open space with our eclipse glasses in tow. Someone will point skyward and announce, “first contact!” as a slight indentation appears on the western side of the Sun. That moment of first contact is when the magic begins.
At first, progress seems slow and there is lots of excited chatter but then people calm down a bit. The indentation grows slowly but some members of the crowd feel a little let down, as though the whole event was overblown, and a few people voice their complaints. A creeping thought in their minds says, “it’s not that big of a deal, this whole thing is overblown”.
As the Moon covers about half of the Sun, excitement builds in the crowd. Everyone has their eclipse glasses on and stares in awe as the events unfold. The shadows grow and the sky darkens slowly but steadily.
About 15 minutes before totality the entire landscape changes. The change in light levels and color is unlike anything seen during any other natural phenomena. The sky takes on steely blue-gray and purple hues that you’ve never seen before. A nervous energy overtakes the crowd that causes it to go completely silent.
Only a crescent of the Sun remains. When there is barely a sliver left, intense anticipation is in the air. Just before totality, faint undulations of light ripple across the ground. Your pulse quickens because you don’t want to miss anything. The Sun is about 99% covered and light is fading fast. A calm, eerily quiet shadow swiftly advances toward you, like a dark thunderstorm. Stars and planets appear. In the last moments before totality, a slight sliver of sunlight disappears and is replaced by a bead of light that makes the Sun look like a brilliant diamond ring. Then it breaks up into the last rays of sunlight shining through lunar valleys and craters like sparkling jewels. They are known as Bailey’s beads. You have perhaps five seconds to see them.
The crowd cheers and gasps and wow!
“No degree of partial eclipse up to the last moment of the Sun’s appearance gave the least idea of a total eclipse…” -George B. Airy, Astronomer Royal of England, 1842
It is impossible to find words to describe a total solar eclipse, and no two are exactly alike, and the same eclipse seen from different places is, well, different and wonderful. This moment is yours, just between you and the Universe. No photography or video can truly capture the event. The horizon appears to be at sunrise and sunset in every direction simultaneously! It is considered a moral offense in some circles to miss actually seeing an eclipse during totality because you are trying to take pictures. The time during totality is too precious to waste. You have a short time to watch the Sun without eclipse glasses. Just gaze. Don’t try to see everything. It’s not possible. Enjoy what you do see. This is your moment.
The temperature drops, about 6°C (10°F) and a soft chill hangs in the air. Birds and mammals react in anxious bewilderment. Insects start singing as though it were night. Bats start flying about.
The western edge of the Moon starts to brighten and appear red. A dazzling dot of white light appears and it’s time to put the eclipse glasses back on. Totality is over. Bailey’s beads again, and another diamond ring. A thin crescent of the Sun emerges. The Sun’s blinding light returns, bathing everything in warmth and the colors our brain expects again. You are filled with relief, and a simultaneous longing for the eclipse. Soon, the Moon no longer covers any part of the Sun. The solar eclipse is over.
For more information about the upcoming North American total solar eclipse, go to: https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/april-8-2024