Three years from today, Monday, April 8, 2024, more than half a billion people across North America will likely take a moment out of their daily routines and look up at the sky to get an overview of one of nature’s great shows: a solar eclipse.
And those lucky enough to be located along a narrow path that stretches across northern Mexico through parts of 15 U.S. states, there will come the opportunity for what many have come to call the most spectacular of heavenly roadshows – in total solar eclipse.
Many readers will surely remember “The Great American Eclipse of 201
Video: Total solar eclipse in April 2024 – See the totality
Related: Total solar eclipse 2024: Here’s what you need to know
A solar eclipse spectacle
it was a fantastic experience for all who saw the sky suddenly darken to the middle of twilight and with it, the sudden appearance of stars and planets in what was only moments earlier a daytime hour.
So, of course, there was the incredible corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun, only visible in those precious moments when the solar disk is completely obscured by the moon. And a few places around the moon’s dark limb were prominent places – pink tongues of glowing hydrogen gas – also evident. And as the first rays of emerging sunlight streaked past the rugged rough edge of the moon, a “diamond ring” was briefly created that signaled a sudden end to “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
But the best has not yet come. For as spectacular as “The Great American Eclipse of 2017” was, an even better eclipse is on its way in 2024.
The “Great North American Solar Eclipse,” which begins in Mexico, crosses into Texas and then heads northeast into the Ohio River Valley, upstate New York, Quebec, Canada and New England, finally leaving the continent through the Canadian Maritimes. And it’s not too early to start planning to see it!
Related: The most amazing photos of the total solar eclipse in 2017
A standout among total eclipses
Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the moon’s dark shadow cone – called the umbra – from which the sight of a total eclipse can be seen, has only swept over parts of the lower 48 states 21 times. The duration of the totality of these eclipses has varied from just one second (April 28, 1930) to incredibly long 5 minutes and 20 seconds (June 24, 1778). The average duration of the totality for all twenty-one cases is 2 minutes and 12 seconds.
For the eclipse on August 21, 2017, the total duration of 2 minutes lasted 40 seconds, which was almost half a minute longer than the US average.
But on April 8, 2024, the maximum duration of totality lasts as long as 4 minutes and 26 seconds (across southwest Texas). It is 135 seconds longer than the US average and 40 percent longer than the maximum duration of the eclipse in 2017.
Related: The largest solar eclipses in US history
In fact, only of the 21 previous totalities that have swept across the current contiguous U.S. borders, only two exceed the 2024 eclipse in terms of total duration: the aforementioned eclipse of 1778 and the eclipse of 16. June 1806 (4 minutes and 52 seconds). This latter eclipse is famous for observations made by José Joaquín de Ferrer, a Spanish astronomer who was the first to pattern the term corona “for the halo of light that surrounds the darkened sun beneath the whole, and by James Fenimore Cooper, who talks about his own experience of witnessing this eclipse from Cooperstown, New York in an autobiographical vignette.
The width of the total trail in the 2024 eclipse will also be unusual: the shadow trail for the previous 21 U.S. eclipses was on average about 93 miles (150 kilometers) wide. In 2017, it was about 115 km wide, but in 2024, the totality trail will be significantly larger and measure 124 km (200 km) above.
A large audience!
Usually, the path to most total solar eclipses tends to have a perverted habit of sweeping over distant parts of the earth or over large stretches of sea and avoiding large population centers. Not so in 2024.
In Mexico, the cities of Mazatlán (population 503,000), Durango (pop. 655,000) and Torreon (pop. 735,000) are within the path of totality. In the United States, the largest population centers will be Dallas, Texas (pop. 1.3 million), followed by Austin (pop. 951,000), Indianapolis, Indiana (pop. 864,000), Cleveland, Ohio (pop. 385,000), Buffalo, New York (pop. 256,000) and Rochester (pop. 207,000).
And there are many other big cities like San Antonio, Texas, St. Louis, Missouri, Louisville, Kentucky, Cincinnati and Columbus in Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which are less than a few hours drive from the total zone.
The largest city that will witness the total eclipse will be in Canada: Montreal, Quebec, (pop 1.8 million).
Interestingly, the total trails in 2017 and 2024 cross the lower Ohio Valley. On average, a particular geographical location is treated with a total solar eclipse approximately once every 375 years. But Carbondale, Illinois – which has christened itself the city “Eclipse Crossroads” – will again experience totality in 2024, less than 7 years after experiencing the total eclipse in 2017!
According to Canadian meteorologist Jay Anderson, who has spent many years examining the climatic conditions in advance of the coming solar eclipses: “April is a month of transition across the continent, with winter storms gradually making way for the convective accumulations of spring and summer. In Mexico, the dry season of winter is in its last month before the summer rains begin. “The last snow of winter has not yet melted, and fresh snowfall is a threat to all weather systems.”
The best probabilities of good weather are in Mexico, where cloud cover varies anywhere from just about 20% and increases to just about 50% at the Texas border. In contrast, weather forecasts across the United States are marginal, if not downright unfavorable. Climatic records indicate that the average cloud cover increases from approx. 50-60% in Texas, northeast to the Missouri-Illinois border and then jumps to nearly 80 percent at the Indiana-Ohio border. Near and along the Great Lakes, cloud cover drops back to around 60-65% before rising again above 80% for Quebec, northern New England and the Maritimes. You can get more details on the Eclipsophile website here.
But even in the most pessimistic regions, one need only remember the famous aphorism attributed to science fiction writer Robert Heinlein: “Climate is what you expect, but weather is what you get!”
In fact, the April weather in the United States and southern Canada is much more variable than in Mexico, so there is hope everywhere for very clear skies on the day of the eclipse.
And as we get closer to that special day, Space.com provides detailed coverage for potential eclipse hunters, so mark your calendars and stay updated!
Joe Rao works as an instructor and guest lecturer in New York Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy to Natural history magazine, that The farmer’s almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.