Just five months from today—on Monday, April 8, 2024—a total solar eclipse will see a new moon block the sun across North America for the first time since 2017 and the last time until 2044.
If you want to see this celestial masterpiece, you need to do your research quickly and book a hotel room as soon as you can. Or make a plan to drive to where the weather is clear, sleep in the car, stand in the moon’s shadow, wait a few hours for the traffic to quieten, then go home. That’s what an army of well-informed eclipse-chasers will be doing.
“If you’re interested in seeing the most spectacular natural event that it’s possible to witness from Earth, you’d be crazy not to drive into the path of totality,” said David Makepeace, a filmmaker at EclipseGuy.com who calls himself “Canada’s busiest eclipse chaser,” in an interview. The path of totality is a “stripe” on a map that will, on April 8, travel diagonally across North America.
From inside that path, the moon will block all of the sun for up to 4 minutes 26 seconds. It will get dark-ish—a deep twilight like nothing else you’ve experienced—but totality is a way more profound experience than that. “All of a sudden, all the light disappears around you in the middle of the day, the sky goes a deep azure blue, stars and planets appear in the sky above your head and there’s an orange glow on the horizon all around you,” said Makepeace, who’s experienced 26 eclipses across the world and produced “Still Hooked,” an inspirational video to promote the 2017 total solar eclipse, also in the U.S. “Then above your head, you see the sun’s corona, shooting out for millions of kilometers from behind the dark side of the moon—it’s as if you’re on an alien planet for a few minutes,” he said.
This is a total eclipse of the sun. You don’t want to miss this.
Get To The Path
Planning to experience a total solar eclipse doesn’t require any scientific knowledge. If anything, it’s about geography. Specifically, where the path of totality will be. A narrow path—roughly 125 miles wide and 10,000 miles long—will, on April 8, stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. As the eclipse moves southwest to northeast it will cross mainland Mexico on the Pacific coast and move through Texas to the U.S. northeast and Atlantic Canada.
The U.S. states it will intersect or clip comprise Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. However, it won’t be enough to just be in these states. You will need to be in particular areas of these states.
A common mistake by would-be eclipse-chasers is to focus on the percentage the moon eclipses the sun and head to somewhere where the percentage is higher. That’s pointless. Even those who see a 99% partial solar eclipse—just outside the path of totality—will have made a dreadful mistake by missing the entire point of the event. The root cause is that non-experts use the term “99% totality.” It’s a fiction.
“There is no such thing as a 99% total eclipse—it’s a 99% partial eclipse,” said Dr. Rick Fienberg, Project Manager of the AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force at the American Astronomical Society, in a press briefing. “Just like there’s no such thing as being 99% pregnant, it’s all or nothing, so you have to be in the path of totality.”
Great Mexican Eclipse
Another error is to think that this will be a uniquely U.S. phenomenon. It won’t be. It will also happen in Canada and Mexico. “It’s going to be a huge event for Mazatlán,” said Dr. David Esquivel, President of the Mazatlán Astronomical Society, in an interview. A high likelihood of clear skies has made this city of 500,000 on the Pacific Coast a favorite for international tour groups, but the authorities expect a late surge of visitors. “We are hoping that with national and international tourists, maybe a million people will be coming,” said Esquivel, who plans to set up solar telescopes at 10 astronomy stations along the city’s seven mile long malecon, its beachside boardwalk.
The state of Sinaloa’s capital, Culiacán, is just a few hours drive north, and Guadalajara is only five hours southeast. “We know that many Mexican people will come just a few hours before the event, which could cause chaos—but we are preparing for that,” said Esquivel.
Although Mazatlán is not likely to be one of them, some locations in the path of totality will be quiet on April 8. Despite many articles about price-gouging and sell-outs, it is still possible to book a hotel room in one of the dozen major cities in the path of totality. But on the day itself, the weather will dictate where is busy.
“It’s a dynamic event because you need to move into the path of totality, but you also need to consider the weather and move within it,” said Makepeace. Climate is why Mexico and Texas are the favored spots, but April is a famously unpredictable month across the continent. On the day, anything can happen anywhere. “The further northeast you go, the more your chances will be shaky because of the climate, but even if you’re in Texas, you’ll want to keep an eye on the weather radar in the 24 hours beforehand,” said Makepeace.
Stay Mobile, Stay Motivated
The best advice is to make a plan to stay mobile—i.e., have a vehicle—and well-thought-through plans for what you’ll do if your intended location looks likely to be cloudy. In practical terms, that means having a location in mind to the northeast and the southwest of where you are, perhaps about 200 or more miles away—however far you’re prepared to drive.
“I wish there were an easier way for the public just to show up somewhere and experience it without any variation,” said Makepeace, who thinks that people need to be highly motivated to make an advance plan for such an event. “Just get into the path of totality and roll the dice with the weather,” he said. “On the day it might be clear across the entire path.”
I’m an expert on eclipses—the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and author of The Complete Guide To The Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024. For the very latest on April 8, 2024’s total solar eclipse—including travel and lodging options—check my main feed for new articles.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.