A guide to the best spots when the lights are out

Eclipse tourists should travel to the US in 2024 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will sweep across North America, offering an astronomical experience in many alluring locations.

Only a tiny fraction of humanity has ever experienced a total solar eclipse – but tens of millions will be able to experience one as the “path of totality” leads from the Pacific to the Atlantic over the course of this magical Monday.

Here’s what you need to know about why you should see it and where you should be.

What happens during a total solar eclipse?

The greatest show on earth comes courtesy of the lifeless moon. Normally, the orbiting blob of the moon merely provides Earth with tides, moonlight, and a place for space rockets to target. But about once a year, it aligns with the sun and, thanks to a geometric marvel, eclipses the center of the solar system to create a total solar eclipse.

“Although the Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun, it is also about 400 times closer to Earth than the Sun,” NASA says. “This means that the moon and sun appear about the same size in the sky when viewed from Earth.”

On the route?  Part of the path of the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse in the United States (NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison)

On the route? Part of the path of the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse in the United States (NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison)

A narrow band marking the “path of totality” traces a dark arc across our planet’s surface. If you are anywhere on this line at the predicted time and you have clear skies, then the experience will become a lifetime memory. The closer you are to the center of the path of totality, the longer the total solar eclipse lasts.

What’s so good about seeing a solar eclipse?

After a warm-up of more than an hour, with the moon constantly nibbling on the sun’s surface, you suddenly experience totality. The stars and planets appear in the middle of the day. The air cools.

To testify to the celestial fit between our two most familiar celestial bodies, faint diamonds known as Baily pearls peek out from behind the moon. They are actually made up of light from the sun sliding through lunar valleys.

A sight to behold – as long as you can see the moon eclipsing the sun and appreciate the mathematical perfection of nature in our corner of the galaxy.

Eclipses are totally predictable: we know the streaks that the next few dozen will paint the surface of the earth. But it’s not the weather. The cloud cover that devastated the 1999 solar eclipse in Cornwall turns a cosmological marvel into gloom.

Sky Above the Sky: Viewing the Last Great American Solar Eclipse in Wyoming in 2023 (Simon Calder)

Sky Above the Sky: Viewing the Last Great American Solar Eclipse in Wyoming in 2023 (Simon Calder)

Where will the great American solar eclipse of 2024 be visible?

The path of totality lands from the Pacific at Mazatlan on the Mexican Pacific coast and swings northeast to reach the US-Mexico border at Piedras Negras.

Large Texas cities – San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas – are at the extreme ends of the path of totality, and it’s very likely that many citizens will ride in the middle of the line.

Arkansas will be an attractive place to view the eclipse since both Texarkana (on the Texas border) and Little Rock are on the path of totality.

In the Midwest, Indianapolis and Cleveland share the distinction of being fairly central on the path to totality. In upstate New York, Buffalo and Niagara Falls could be extremely attractive — though prone to cloudy skies in early April.

In Canada, Montreal is being touched by the Path of Totality. The line then returns to the US and travels through northern Maine – which would be an excellent location weather permitting. Then back to Canada’s maritime provinces, with New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland all in darkness.

I’d rather be in a more exciting city – will there be a partial eclipse there?

Boston, New York, and Chicago are among the major cities that will eclipse a significant portion of the sun; but nothing compares to a total solar eclipse.

The astronomer Dr. John Mason, who has guided dozens of eclipse trips (and will continue to do so in 2024), puts the difference between a 99.5 percent partial eclipse and a total eclipse as far apart as “a kiss on the cheek and a night of passion.” .

When viewing a partial solar eclipse or during the partial phases of a total solar eclipse, you must use special eclipse goggles or viewers.

Where should I be for the overall experience?

There is no guarantee of clear skies, you can only play the odds based on the cloud cover record for the relevant date in previous years.

according to dr Mason, average expected cloudiness levels are rising from about 40-45 percent on the Mexico-Texas border to over 80 percent in Maine, New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

I am currently deciding between three possible locations:

  • south texas, near San Antonio or Austin. Aside from the likelihood of clear skies, access is easy with direct flights to Austin. Importantly, there’s plenty to explore in the pre-eclipse and post-eclipse region, from Big Bend National Park on the Rio Grande to Space Center Houston – an excellent place to continue the cosmological theme.

  • Northern Arkansasa scenic part of the state, with the added attraction of Memphis just a few hours away.

  • niagara falls: There might be washout due to clouds, but the natural setting is pristine – and hotel accommodation is plentiful.

Once you have decided on the location, the first must is a hotel close to the location. Almost as predictable as the eclipse is that traffic to and from the path of totality will be heavy on April 8, 2024. Rooms can be expensive — during the 2017 US solar eclipse, a mid-range hotel in Jackson, Wyoming charged over $1,000 for the crucial night before.

Can I already book flights?

No, but you can do this soon. Transatlantic flights usually go on sale almost a year in advance (typically 350 days). A good travel agent may be willing to book for you as soon as it becomes available.

Can I take part in an organized trip?

They tend to sell out years in advance, but Intrepid Travel has room for a 16-day tour beginning March 26, 2024 in Albuquerque, New Mexico and ending April 10 in San Antonio, Texas. The price of £7,099 per person excludes transatlantic flights but includes a guided tour by Dr. John Mason.

More economical options will be available for the first two total solar eclipses in the second half of the 2020s.

When are the next total solar eclipses?

The summer of 2026 – Wednesday, August 12th to be precise – should see a spectacular solar eclipse northern spain at the height of the European holiday season. The Path of Totality begins in the Arctic and crosses Greenland and Iceland before arriving in the northern half of Spain. The Strip of Darkness will pass through the major cities of Bilbao, Zaragoza and Valencia in mainland Spain before arriving in Palma de Mallorca.

The following summer (August 2, 2027), the southern tip of mainland Spain is in the path of the total solar eclipse that will sweep over it North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula: East from the Strait of Gibraltar, it will include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, the northeast corner of Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Almost 12 months later, on July 22, 2028, Outback Australia will be the right place. A total solar eclipse will land in northern Western Australia, sweep across the Northern Territory and part of south-west Queensland – and then sweep across New South Wales, with Sydney at the center of totality’s path.

A wintry cloud cover could disrupt the experience in Australia’s largest city – and is most likely in the southern part of New Zealand’s South Island, where the eclipse reaches its finale.

Australia is also included in the cosmological plans for November 25, 2030. This is early summer in the southern hemisphere and probably good conditions for viewing Namibia, Botswana and South Africa (Durban is on the way to totality) as well as South Australia.

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