The sun is about to pull another set of sunsets across North America, turning day into night during a total solar eclipse.
The April 8 spectacle will last up to 4 minutes, 28 seconds of total darkness – twice as long as the total solar eclipse that lit up US skies in 2017.
This eclipse will take a different and more populated path, entering over the Pacific coast of Mexico, swinging up through Texas and Oklahoma, and crossing the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and New England, before disappearing over eastern Canada into the Atlantic.
About 44 million people live within the entire 115-mile-wide (185-kilometer-wide) corridor that stretches from Mazatlán, Mexico to Newfoundland; there are about 32 million of them in the United States, ensuring jammed roads for the must-see heavenly sensation.
The eclipse will allow many to share in the “wonders of the universe without going far,” said NASA eclipse program manager Kelly Korreck.
Here’s what you need to know about the April extravaganza and how to prepare:
WHAT HAPPENS DURING A TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN?
The moon will come up perfectly between the Earth and the sun, blotting out the sunlight. It will take just a few hours for the moon’s shadow to cut a diagonal line from southwest to northeast across North America, briefly plunging communities along the way into darkness.
Fifteen states of the United States will get a piece of the deal, although two of them will be barely – Tennessee and Michigan.
Among the cities smack dab in the action: Dallas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Cleveland, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; and Montreal – making for the largest eclipse crowds on the continent.
Don’t worry if you don’t have front seats. Almost everyone on the continent can experience at least a partial eclipse. The further from the path of totality, the smaller the moon’s grip away from the sun. In Seattle and Portland, Oregon, about as far away as you can get in the continental US, a third of the sun will be swallowed.
WHY IS WHOLE BETTER?
By a cosmic stroke of luck, the moon will make its closest approach to Earth the month before the total solar eclipse. That puts the moon just 223,000 miles (360,000 kilometers) away on the day of the eclipse.
The moon will appear slightly larger in the sky thanks to that proximity, resulting in a very long period of sun-blocked darkness.
In addition, the Earth and the moon will be 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from the sun on that day, the average distance.
When a closer moon pairs with a more distant sun, the total can last as long as an astonishing 7 1/2 minutes. The last time the world saw a total of more than seven minutes was in 1973 over Africa. That won’t happen again until 2150 over the Pacific.
HOW DOES THE ECLIPSE LOOK LIKE?
Sunglasses won’t cut it. Special eclipse glasses are essential for safely observing the sun as the moon marches across the late morning and evening sky, covering more and more and then less and less of our star.
During totality when the sun is completely shrouded, it is fine to remove your glasses and look with your eyes naked. But before and after, certified eclipse glasses are essential to avoid eye damage. Make sure they are not scratched or torn.
Cameras, binoculars and telescopes must be fitted with special solar filters for safe viewing. Bottom line: Don’t look at exposed sun without proper protection any day of the year.
WHERE ARE SOME ECLIPSE WATCHING PARTIES?
Towns up and down the path of totality are throwing star-studded parties. Festivals, races, yoga retreats, drum circles and more will take place at museums, fairgrounds, parks, stadiums, wineries, breweries and even one of Ohio’s oldest drive-in movie theaters and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In addition to looking up, you can attend a “space prom” in the Texas Hill Country, get married at eclipse-themed ceremonies in Tiffin, Ohio, and Russellville, Arkansas, or contribute to moonwalk history at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio – hometown of Neil Armstrong.
As the eclipse progresses, NASA will launch small rockets with science instruments into the upper atmosphere from Virginia and will search for the shadow of totality from high-altitude airplanes. Satellites and the crew of the International Space Station will try to capture the show from space.
WHEN IS THIS TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE?
Total solar eclipses happen every year or two or three, often in the middle of nowhere like the South Pacific or Antarctica. The next total solar eclipse, in 2026, will pass over the northern edge of Greenland, Iceland and Spain.
North America will not be below the total again until 2033, with Alaska receiving a single deduction. Then that’s it until 2044, when the total will be limited to Western Canada, Montana and North Dakota.
There won’t be another US coast-to-coast eclipse until 2045. That one will stretch from Northern California all the way to Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Except for Carbondale, Illinois, in both the 2017 and 2024 eclipse crosses, it usually takes 400 years to 1,000 years for totality to return to the same location, according to NASA’s Korreck.
The Associated Press Health and Science Section is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science and Media Education Group. The AP is solely responsible for all matters.