A total solar eclipse is a rare celestial event that involves the Moon and the Sun. When they line up perfectly, it blocks the light from the Sun which results in Earth experiencing temporary darkness during the day. (So cool!) This phenomenon is called a total solar eclipse. It is a can't-miss event for astronomy lovers but certainly something everyone should see once in their life!
The next total solar eclipse happens in April 2024! Learn about this type of eclipse, the locations where you can view it best, and where you can buy solar eclipse glasses!
Total Solar Eclipse Appearance
When you hear the word eclipse you likely think of a total solar eclipse. This type of solar eclipse is the most known of all the types of eclipses. The most beautiful and unique thing about this eclipse is that the sun is completely blocked from view. It is the only time the people of Earth can experience darkness during the day.
A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon perfectly lines up to cover the Sun and produces a shadow over certain parts of Earth. The Moon is close enough to Earth that it blocks any visual of the Sun. During this celestial event, only the Sun's corona - the outermost part of its atmosphere which extends thousands of kilometers outward - is visible.
Above is a photo example of what you expect to see when observing a total solar eclipse. This event is a critical time for scientists to study the Sun's corona since it is so visible. See our other post to learn more about the impact of solar eclipses on Astronomy.
Different Types of Eclipses
There are four types of solar eclipses in total. All of these types include the Sun and the Moon, and the difference between each of them has to do with the positioning of the celestial objects involved. We've included the total solar eclipse and added a short description of what the eclipse looks like.
Total - the Moon is close enough to the Earth when the objects line up that it completely blocks the Sun from Earth's point of view
Annular - the Moon is far from the Earth, when all objects line up it creates a "ring of fire" effect
Partial - the Moon is not lined up perfectly to completely block the Sun but does obscure part of the Sun, creating a crescent effect
Hybrid - very rare; this occurs when the eclipse changes "total" to "annular" and it is dependent on the location it is viewed (this occurred in April 2023!)
Remember: The most important aspect of solar eclipse viewing is eye safety. Never look directly at the Sun without eye protection and only use equipment created to view the sun.
What's the Best View of the Eclipse?
The best place to see a total solar eclipse is in the path of totality. This is the movement of the Moon's shadow across the planet, and it is in these areas that you will see the impact of the eclipse's total darkness and the Sun is like the image above. Thankfully, modern science has made it easy to predict when a solar eclipse occurs and where it will pass!
The path for the total solar eclipse occurring on April 8, 2024, will cross over North America. In the United States, it will go from the South to the Northeast. The path will cross the states of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, and Maine.
It will also pass through parts of Oklahoma, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Philadelphia, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
Mexico and Canada will also see the eclipse in several states and provinces, respectively.
In the image to the right from the Great American Eclipse, your best view of a total eclipse is the path highlighted in yellow. These areas are the places where it will be the darkest (in the umbra) and where you will see the Sun as it is in the example above.
Can You See the Eclipse Outside the Path of Totality?
Yes, you can still see a solar eclipse from a penumbral area but know that it won't be as significant as if you were in the path of the eclipse. What this means is you can see a part of the Sun being blocked, but not exactly as you would see in the appearance example above.
To visualize it better, take a second look at the map above in the previous section! It shows how much of the eclipse you can see from areas away from the path ranging from a sliver of a crescent shining through to a sliver of partial obstruction on the Sun. The best perspective will always be in the path of totality, but it's worth seeing this phenomenon happen regardless.
Keep the memory forever by learning what you need to take a photo of the eclipse in our post: How to Observe and Photograph an Eclipse.
Solar Eclipse Fun Facts:
The peak of an eclipse is not long - it only lasts a few minutes.
The only time a solar eclipse occurs is during a new moon phase.
A total eclipse is the best time for scientists to study the Sun's corona.
Find information about Earth's natural satellite by reading our Moon Phases post.
Prepare for a Total Solar Eclipse
Unless you live in the path of totality, you likely have to travel to see the eclipse. In this case, it's worth researching and reserving accommodations ahead of time. Why? Folks tend to book lodgings in advance meaning it might be difficult in popular areas, so book in advance to avoid being disappointed. Learn all upcoming solar eclipses that occur until 2100.
Tips for Eclipse Observation:
Plan, plan, plan. You can never be too prepared for a rare event like this. At this time, we are fortunate to have knowledge ahead of time thanks to science! To ensure you see the eclipse, plan in advance. So book your hotel and buy your solar eclipse glasses ASAP.
Choose a picnic-type spot. A safe location is key. Ensure you're in a permissible area where you can get comfortable. That means arriving early to secure a good spot and then waiting until the event begins. Think of it like going on an all-day picnic because once you get there, you won't want to move so you don't miss the total solar eclipse.
Use proper eye protection. If you buy solar eclipse glasses, ensure it meets the proper standards (certified ISO 12312-2) that protect your eyes from UV and IR radiation which is harmful. It also reduces light through the lenses.
Cherish the moment! This unique experience is something to behold, so don't forget to take a look at your surroundings while you're observing or taking photos! Extreme darkness during the day doesn't happen just any day!
Love astronomy and photography? Combine the two and learn astrophotography! Read our Beginner Astrophotography Guide to learn how to get started!
How to Safely Observe the Eclipse
You can view the eclipse in a few ways. What's most important to note is eye safety. You must protect your eyes from the Sun, so purchase products that are created for solar observation. Avoid homemade filters or items because they might cause long-term damaging effects.
The easiest and most affordable option is to purchase solar eclipse glasses. Not only are they simple to use, but they don't require any special things to operate - because they're just glasses! Another method to use is equipment for solar observation, like telescopes or cameras. However, the first time you try your gear shouldn't be the day of the eclipse. Read our post to see the equipment we recommend for solar eclipses (coming soon!).
Options for solar eclipse observation (there is a theme here):
Solar filter and camera
Solar filter binoculars
Solar filter and phone
Where to Buy Solar Eclipse Glasses
The best place to purchase and ensure you get your hands on solar eclipse glasses is online. While you may be able to find these specialized glasses at local stores, it's less risky to purchase them online. You also have more options from sources for style and design when shopping online. The most critical thing to look out for with your glasses is that they meet ISO 12312-2 standards.
Want to learn how to observe the sun with a telescope? Take a look at our post for our recommendations: Best Gear for Solar Eclipses (coming soon!).
A total solar eclipse is what most people think of when they hear the word eclipse. This type of eclipse completely blocks light from the Sun creating an exciting and haunting darkness during the daytime for those fortunate to live in the path of totality. To view a total solar eclipse or any eclipse for that matter, you must wear proper eye protection, such as solar telescopes or solar eclipse glasses.
If you plan to travel to an area where the path of totality crosses, make plans in advance to ensure you have somewhere to stay but also somewhere to view the eclipse. Purchase solar eclipse glasses sooner than later. You can buy a pair for yourself or in bulk through High Point Scientific. Last but not least, while you look up don't forget to also look around and see the change this phenomenon causes.
Astronomy lovers and astrophotography hobbyists can learn more about the night sky and deep-sky objects with our Astro books. Check out our books by clicking the image below.