Celestial News: Counting down to the next total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024
Where were you on Aug. 21, 2017? That was the date of the Great American Eclipse, the first total eclipse of the sun visible from the contiguous 48 states since Feb. 26, 1979.
Millions of Americans were treated to their very first total eclipse of the sun, as the moon’s shadow swept across our country coast to coast.
If you witnessed the Great American Eclipse in 2017, chances are you were awestruck by the sight of stars in the midday sky behind the sun’s silvery corona, and you would love another opportunity to experience that eclipse rush again. If so, Mother Nature has a treat for you.
On April 8, 2024, just two years from this month, the moon’s shadow once again will race across our country, as well as parts of Mexico and Canada. This event is being billed by many as the Great North American Eclipse of 2024. Millions of people live within the path of totality of this eclipse, with tens of millions more just a short drive away. It may well be viewed by more people than any other eclipse in history.
Whereas the 2017 eclipse traced a path across the USA from the northwest to the southeast, the 2024 eclipse will follow a path from the southwest to the northeast, crossing or touching 15 states from Texas to Maine. The duration of the 2024 eclipse will be up to 4 minutes, 28 seconds, nearly double that of the 2017 eclipse.
Folks living in and around Carbondale, Illinois, will be treated to a second total solar eclipse passing over their homes in only seven years. That’s pretty amazing, considering that the average wait time for a total eclipse to recur over the same point on Earth is 360 years!
Texas likely will be the focal point for travelers seeking the moon’s shadow in 2024. The prospects for clear skies in early April along the eclipse path are most promising over the Lone Star State and the path of totality includes the major cities of San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth.
From Texas, the moon’s shadow will sweep over the towns of Little Rock, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo and Montreal.
Although the Great North American Eclipse of 2024 won’t pass quite as close to Colorado as did the Great American Eclipse of 2017, you still might want to consider traveling a few hundred miles to experience one of nature’s most rare and breathtaking spectacles. If so, start making your plans now.
In the meantime, there is another kind of eclipse in store for the American Southwest on Oct. 14, 2023. This will be an annular or ring eclipse instead of a total eclipse.
For this event, the moon will be too far away from earth to totally cover the sun’s bright face, briefly creating a brilliant ring of sunlight streaming around the black lunar disk. While an annular eclipse does not allow the opportunity to see the sun’s corona and stars in the daytime, it is, nonetheless, a different kind of breathtaking experience.
The path of the 2023 annular eclipse clips the southwestern corner of Colorado and includes the towns of Cortez and Mancos, as well as Mesa Verde National Park. Durango is just outside the path of annularity. Folks there will see a broken ring of sunlight around the moon.
In nearby New Mexico, the towns of Farmington, Albuquerque and Santa Fe are all in the path of annularity. How about viewing a rare annular eclipse of the sun from Monument Valley, Utah? You can on Oct. 14, 2023.
Of course, if you think you can make it, you can always hold out for the Great American Eclipse of Aug. 12, 2045, which will pass smack dab over the heart of Colorado and provide a full six minutes of totality. Let’s see … I’ll only be 92 years old in 2045.
For information about astronomy-related events in Steamboat Springs, including public star parties at CMC’s Ball Observatory, contact physics and astronomy instructor Paul McCudden, at email@example.com or 970-870-4537 or visit the SKY Club web page at http://www.coloradomtn.edu/skyclub.
Jimmy Westlake is adjunct professor of Physical Sciences at Colorado Mountain College and former director of the Rollins Planetarium at Young Harris College in Georgia and the St. Charles Parish Library Planetarium, in Luling, Louisiana. His “Celestial News” column appears monthly in the Steamboat Today newspaper. Check out Jimmy’s astrophotography website at http://www.jwestlake.com.
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