In August 2017, the path of a total solar eclipse crossed the United States for the first time in a half century. Thanks to the internet, nearly everyone in the US knew about this eclipse with many websites giving detailed information of where to see it, so tens of millions of Americans flocked into the 70-mile-wide path of totality for this breathtaking event. If you missed your chance in 2017 (or if you want to double-dip), another chance comes up April 8, 2024. But if you miss this one, you’ll have to wait 21 more years for another total solar eclipse to cross the US.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s shadow passes over the earth so that the sun’s light is completely blocked out. The path of totality is not very wide; however, the 2024 path of totality will be greater than 2017’s eclipse—115 miles across as opposed to 70 miles. On either side of the path of totality, there will be large regions in which one may see a partial solar eclipse, where the sun is only partly blocked out. The maximum coverage of a partial eclipse can be expressed as the percentage of the sun that is covered by the moon. Just outside the path of totality, the sun will be 99% blocked. Prior to the 2017 solar eclipse, some people asked me if 99% was about as good as 100% (totality). The answer is an emphatic no—the difference is literally and figuratively the difference between night and day. I’ve seen plenty of partial solar eclipses. If I hadn’t known there was a partial eclipse going on, I probably wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual. That cannot be said of a total solar eclipse. The two total solar eclipses that I have experienced are the most remarkable things I have ever seen.
Of course, it gets dark during a total solar eclipse, but there is much more. The dark is not like that of midnight. Rather, it is more like deep twilight, with a 360-degree red glow “sunset” on the horizon. The brighter stars and planets are visible. Then there is the corona, a pearly-white glow of the outermost part of the sun’s thin atmosphere that extends outward a few diameters of the sun. Closer in, near the eclipsed surface of the sun, there are blood-red loops called prominences. The corona and prominences generally are not visible outside of a total solar eclipse. There is no need for a telescope to enjoy a total solar eclipse, though binoculars may help. Looking around and up at the sun, everything seems surrealistic and otherworldly. Simply drinking in the experience is dumbfounding, at least for me. You see, during totality, I shut up and say very little. Meanwhile, some people around me were shouting in amazement. Totality affects people so differently.
Total solar eclipses are a wonderful gift to mankind.
Totality is quite a moving experience, and a spiritual one. It ought to cause us to be drawn closer to our Creator. A total solar eclipse tells me that God is an artist. But total solar eclipses reveal that God is quite a designer too. The sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but the sun is 400 times farther away than the moon. Consequently, the sun and moon appear approximately the same size in the sky (about ½ degree) so that the moon barely covers the sun during a total solar eclipse. This results in total solar eclipses being spectacular and rare. On average, a total solar eclipse is seen at any location on earth about once every four centuries. This is the only planet in the solar system where this is the case, and it is the only place in the solar system where there are beings who can appreciate this fact. Total solar eclipses are a wonderful gift to mankind.
To see this eclipse as total, you must plan to be in the path of totality. The closer you are to the centerline of an eclipse, the longer totality will last. On the centerline of the 2024 eclipse, totality will last about four minutes (a little less the farther north you are along the path of totality). On the other hand, totality will last mere seconds on the edges of the path of totality. There are many online resources that have detailed maps of the path of totality. I recommend checking out some of these maps early as you make your plans for this eclipse.
The path of totality just misses the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky, passing to the west and north of us. Therefore, we won’t be having an eclipse event here at the Creation Museum. I plan to venture a couple hours into Indiana to view the eclipse. I intend to take photos with two telescopes and possibly even a third camera without a telescope. I’ll probably blog about the eclipse a few more times prior to the eclipse and certainly afterward.
Looking at the sun can be very dangerous, so it is important during the partial phases that precede and follow totality that you use a proper solar filter. An inexpensive option is a pair of cardboard solar eclipses glasses with solar filters where the lenses normally would be. These are available from many vendors. I’ve ordered a few hundred to pass out at an annular eclipse in October and the rest in April. But don’t forget to remove the sunglasses during totality. After the 2017 eclipse, I heard about a poor woman who heard so much about the danger of looking at the sun that she didn’t remove her solar eclipse glasses during totality and hence missed it entirely!