A total solar eclipse one of the most spectacular celestial events you can witness. Observing a total solar eclipse is truly a life-changing event.
In the coming 15 months we will witness two of such events, both across the continental United States.
What is a Solar Eclipse?
A solar eclipse is when the Moon gets in-between the Sun and the Earth. In principle this happens every New Moon, but due to the tilt of the lunar orbit, most of the time the Moon will be just above or below the line of Sun and Earth.
On rare occasions, things are perfectly aligned, and when this occurs, the moon will obscure the Sun. But as is visible in the image below, in order for the entire sun to be covered, you must be in the correct place on the Earth, otherwise you only see a partial eclipse, or nothing special at all.
Not one, but two Eclipses!
As the title states, we will have two eclipses within 6 months! The first one, on October 14th is an annular eclipse (see explanation in next paragraph), while the second, on April 8th, 2024 will be a true total solar eclipse (See details in second paragraph). Unlike a lunar eclipse, in order to observe a solar eclipse you need to be in a narrow path. Inside the path you can observe the total eclipse, while outside you only see a partial eclipse.
First Eclipse: October 14 2023
The first eclipse is what is called an “Annular Eclipse”, also sometimes called the “ring of fire”. During this eclipse, the Moon happens to be a little further away from Earth and appears therefore a little smaller, and will not be able to cover the Sun entirely, even when you’re in the center. A typical eclipse progression looks as follows:
During an annular eclipse it never gets dark, and in order to observe safely, eclipse glasses are needed at all times. The partial eclipse before and after totality lasts about an hour and 15 minutes, totality is 4 to 5 minutes depending on the location.
The path of the eclipse is as follows: The eclipse will start in Oregon at around 8 am, through Nevada Utah and Colorado, Arizona and arrive in Texas around 10 am in Texas. After which the eclipse will continue to the Yucatan and South America.
Major US cities in or near the eclipse path:
Salt Lake City, UT
Santa Fe, NM
Midland & Odessa, TX
San Angelo, TX
San Antonio, TX
Corpus Christi, TX
The population of these cities alone is well over 3 million and a metro-population of about 7.5 million. Note, the cities listed are just the cities in totality. Cities that fall just outside (like Austin, Texas) are not counted here, but will exhibit significant interest.
Second Eclipse: April 8th, 2024
The second eclipse is truly a total solar eclipse where the Sun in its entirety gets covered. Witnessing an event like this is truly life changing; it gets dark and cold, the wind picks up, birds go to sleep and stars and planets become visible. Additionally the solar corona becomes visible.
On some websites this eclipse is nicknamed: the Great American Eclipse:
During a total eclipse the ONLY time for safe observing of the Sun is during the brief time of totality, during the rest of the eclipse, eclipse glasses are needed at all times. The partial eclipse before and after totality lasts about an hour and 15 minutes, totality is 4 to 5 minutes depending on the location. The path of the eclipse, as well as a comprehensive list of cities and times is as follows:
Viewing the Sun can be dangerous and you should always make sure never to look directly into the Sun. Prolonged exposure to the Sun can cause damage to the eye. Therefore always make sure you use proper protection when viewing (see below).
NEVER look at the Sun through binoculars or a telescope! Those instruments greatly magnify light and therefore increase the danger that the Sun might pose.
Thankfully there are good (and safe) ways to look at the Sun but you do have to take care. Let's start with the best way to look at the Sun: make a projection. By making a pinhole in a piece of cardboard (or aluminum foil) you can create a pinhole-projector. The light of the Sun will fall though the hole and will create an image of the Sun. For example you can use a cardboard box for this. The image will be visible away from the Sun. It will take some time and puzzling to get this to work but this can be a fun project by itself. For example you can make a pinhole projector out of a poster-tube. Cover one end with aluminum foil and secure this with some tape. Make a tiny hole in the aluminum foil using a folded out paperclip. Cover the other end with trace-paper. Then when you point the poster tube to the Sun you will see a small picture of the Sun on the trace paper. With a poster tube of about 3 feet in length you will get an image of the Sun of approximately a quarter inch.
Of course that is not the only way to look at the Sun safely. Welding glasses are very good to use and there are even cheap eclipse glasses on the market that are perfect for occasions like this.
Unfortunately there are also many unsafe ways. You read a lot about using a CD. It is indeed true that if you look though the silver part of a CD (not through the hole!) light is greatly diminished and indeed you can look into the Sun without squinting. The problem is though that a CD does not filter out ultraviolet or infrared light. You cannot see these wavelengths of light but they are definitely harmful for the eye. Therefore we do not recommend this method.