Getting Ready For Act 2 Of The Great American Eclipse

It seems like only yesterday that the “Great American Eclipse” swept from coast to coast, and for those who were lucky enough to watch it from along the path of totality, it was a true life experience. No natural phenomenon can compete with the beauty of a total solar eclipse, and if there’s one thing I heard more than anything else in those golden moments after the Sun returned from behind the Moon, it was, “When’s the next one?” Everyone wanted to do it again, and for good reason.

Back in 2017, that question was kind of rhetorical; everyone knew the next eclipse to cross the United States was a mere seven years off. For me personally, the passage of time has not dampened my enthusiasm for eclipses one bit, and I suspect the feeling is mutual among the many people who gazed in wonder and childlike glee at the celestial proceedings of 2017. But except for the very lucky who live within the path of totality, mounting an expedition that optimizes the viewing experience takes preparation. Now that we’re a little less than a year away for the next one, it’s time to get geared up and make plans for the 2024 eclipse.

Where and When?

The 2017 eclipse’s “Great American Eclipse” moniker was well earned, as the continental United States was the sole beneficiary of the view. This time around, the US isn’t the only country along the path; Mexico and Canada will also get in on the fun. In fact, Mexico may well be the best place to watch the eclipse from, but more on that later.

The date you’ll want to mark in your calendars is April 8, 2024. As for the time, you’ll need to be careful; the eclipse will cover five time zones on its way across North America, so you might want to use a time zone converter or other resources to make sure you don’t show up an hour late. We can say that according to NASA’s all-inclusive eclipse page, the Moon’s shadow will first touch the mainland just south of Mazatlán on the western coast of Mexico at 11:07 AM PDT. From that point, the show is on.

Path of the total solar eclipse of April 8, 2024. Source: NASA

The eclipse will enter the United States north of Eagle Pass in Texas, and proceed in a generally northeast direction from there. The first big city to be brushed by the 125-mile-wide umbra of the Moon’s shadow will be San Antonio, but just barely — totality will only last a few minutes in the city proper. If you’re a totality junkie — and you really should be — a 40 minutes drive to the northwest will get you a much better show.

As with many things, Texas gets the lion’s share of this eclipse, with a glancing blow on Austin and near-direct hits on Waco, Killeen, and Dallas before heading off into Arkansas. St. Louis and Memphis are near misses, but Indianapolis is nearly in the centerline of totality. The shadow almost completely covers Lakes Erie and Ontario, putting Cleveland, Buffalo, and Rochester in a good position to see totality. Burlington and Montpelier, Vermont are the last major US cities to experience totality, with Montreal getting brushed by the northern fringe of the shadow. The show is finally over for the US as the shadow rakes across northern Maine, well above the population centers on the coast, and eventually winds its way out into the North Atlantic by way of New Brunswick and Newfoundland at 5:16 PM NDT.

Totality? Totally!

Just like the 2017 eclipse, the path of totality for this one passes through the most densely populated parts of the US and Canada. Literally everyone in the country will be able to see at least some of the eclipse; even Seattle, the major city that’s farthest from the eclipse’s path, will see about 20% totality. But millions of people will be within reasonable driving distance of the path of totality, which begs the question: Is it worth it?

Speaking from experience, absolutely! For the 2017 eclipse, I took my family on a trip to eastern Idaho near the city of Rexburg, a drive of about ten hours from our home in North Idaho. Driving that far in search of a couple of minutes of darkness in the middle of the day might sound crazy, but unless you’ve been within totality, you don’t know what you’re missing. The entire experience was magical. Granted, that might have had something to do with the setting — we were perched on the rim of an extinct volcano — and the fantastic social aspect of the whole thing. But if you have a chance to get into the path of totality, take my advice and make the effort. You won’t be disappointed.

As for choosing a specific location, things are going to be a lot different this time around. The 2017 eclipse was in August, a month when summer weather patterns are fully in control across most of the United States. Clouds were few and far between for our chosen viewing location, and we got a great show, as did millions who made the trip to totality that day. But the 2024 eclipse is in April, a time when winter and spring are still fighting things out, meteorologically speaking. Interesting Engineering did an article recently on what your prospects are for clear weather along the path of totality, and — well, let’s just say it’s not as good this time around.

If you’re in Mexico, you’re probably good — most locations along the path have a 75% chance of clear skies. Further along the path, historical cloud cover ranges from 60 to 65% of the sky from Texas to Arkansas for April 8, and it only gets worse the further north and east that you get. Anyone who has experienced the endless winters of upstate New York and northern New England knows that even though there may be warm days in early April, they’re few and far between, and rarely does the Sun show its face at that time of the year.

Another factor to consider is that while the 2024 eclipse will only graze the official boundary of “Tornado Alley,” it still plunges right through an area that is prone to these storms. Plus, April is a time when it’s easy for cold, dry air descending off the east face of the Rockies to meet up with warm, humid air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, and when those two air masses collide — well, let’s just say that if you get cheated out of seeing the eclipse, you may well get another kind of natural spectacle.

Taking all this into account, my advice for totality seekers is to stay mobile. You only need a two- to four-minute gap in the clouds to see the whole thing, and that could easily be within a short drive. Our strategy for the last eclipse was risky — committing to a viewing location that took an hour to hike to made it impossible to scramble up the road a few miles if a sudden storm came up. Granted, the view we got was totally worth the risk, but the whole thing could have easily been ruined, and knowing that it could have been fixed at the cost of a few gallons of gas would really have stung.

So this time around, we’re going to stay flexible. We’re driving all the way from North Idaho to near Austin, Texas, in part to see the eclipse from as close to centerline as possible, but also to visit with some dear friends I haven’t seen in far too long. I’m planning to do some military-grade pre-planning, using this interactive tool to generate maps of every possible route within the path of totality, and perhaps even pulling down real-time satellite data in case we need to bug out and find another location. I’ll also probably be on the air with the local hams, checking conditions and making sure I can make informed decisions if a last-minute change is needed.

Prepare to Pay

Stylish, comfortable, and functional — the Hackaday eclipse glasses were a big hit in 2017.

One thing that totality chasers will have to keep in mind is that this isn’t going to be cheap. Every hotel and motel owner, not to mention everyone with an AirBnB or VRBO, knows this eclipse is coming, and they’ll be pricing their services accordingly. And sometimes eye-wateringly so — a news story out of Erie, Pennsylvania, which will see over four minutes of totality, tells of hotel rooms that normally cost $100 a night going for five to nine times that amount on the date of the eclipse. That seems to be an artifact of online booking, though, since a direct call to one of the overpriced hotels resulted in a booking for only $200 a night, which really isn’t that egregious. Still, you’ll want to be careful with bookings, unless you can depend on the kindness of friends; here’s hoping one of my Texas friends has a spare room. Ben? Jessica?

No matter where you stay, you’re going to have to be prepared for observation. As we outlined last time, direct viewing of the Sun anywhere outside of totality requires eye protection, with eclipse glasses being the best bet. A shade 14 welding helmet filter will do the trick too, as will pinhole cameras and the like for indirect viewing. Don’t use smoked glass — you don’t want to trust your eyesight to a random layer of candle soot on a glass slide. On Menan Butte in 2017, the Hackaday-branded eclipse glasses were a big hit; we’ll see if we can bring those back this time around.

Astronomically speaking, total solar eclipses aren’t all that rare. But given the size of our planet and the fact that its surface is 70% water, having an eclipse come close enough to you that it’s feasible to go see it feels like it’s a “once-in-a-lifetime” event. Getting a second chance to see one, especially when you’ve been bitten by the totality bug, feels like a rare opportunity indeed. Make your plans, get prepared, and if you end up anywhere near the Austin area on April 8, drop me a line and maybe we can arrange a meet-up — Hackaday eclipses are the best eclipses!

41 thoughts on “Getting Ready For Act 2 Of The Great American Eclipse

  1. “Astronomically speaking, total eclipses are not that rare”
    This might not be true. They are not all that uncommon on Earth, but may be very uncommon elsewhere in the Universe, as it requires just the right ratio of sun and moon diameters and relative distances from the viewing planet.
    So much so that it has been proposed (By Ian M Banks) that the most likely place to find extra-terrestrial visitors will be around the path of totality.

    1. Total eclipse is getting rarer. Moon is continuously moving away from Earth and it’s estimated that in some 600 years the last ever total eclipse will occur. Any more eclipse after will be partial or annular.

    2. Total eclipses aren’t rare. The Hubble has photographed eclipses: Jupiter’s moons casting shadows on Jupiter, and I assume the reverse is common. Saturn routinely casts a shadow on its rings, and there are moons amongst those rings. If you’re willing to consider artificial items, the ISS is eclipsed several times a day.

      1. Well, yes, and the earth eclipses the moon very regularly. But those eclipses don’t get the “diamond ring” effect causes by the almost exact size coincidence.

          1. The dinosaurs didn’t get to see the “diamond ring” effect because the moon was too close to Earth back then. In several million years the diamond ring effect will be a thing of the past because the moon will have moved too far away, and the best you will be able to hope for is an annular eclipse.

          2. Interesting conjecture. Are you considering act of God, Resonance, or Alien theme park here?
            Looking at the news, Alien Theme Park is my best guess.

  2. Buy your eclipse glasses now. They’re a couple bucks each (and probably cost 2c to manufacture), but if 2017 was any indication, if you wait until even a few months out you will both be spending hours finding any in stock and paying around an order of magnitude more for them.

      1. From NASA’s “What to Do with Your Solar Eclipse Glasses”: Some glasses and viewers are printed with warnings stating that you shouldn’t look through them for more than three minutes at a time and that you should discard them if they are more than one to three years old. Rick Fienberg of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) said, “These warnings are outdated and do not apply to eclipse viewers compliant with the ISO 12312-2 standard adopted in 2015.”

        From AAS’s “How to Tell If Your Eclipse Glasses or Handheld Solar Viewers Are Safe”: If your eclipse glasses or viewers are compliant with the ISO 12312-2 safety standard adopted in 2015, you may look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed Sun through them for as long as you wish. Furthermore, if the filters aren’t scratched, punctured, torn, or coming loose from their frames, you may reuse them indefinitely”

        So just make sure your glasses are really, actually ISO 12312-2 compliant (there’s a list of reputable vendors on the AAS website) and you’re fine.

    1. @fiddlingjunky said: “Buy your eclipse glasses now. They’re a couple bucks each (and probably cost 2c to manufacture), but if 2017 was any indication, if you wait until even a few months out you will both be spending hours finding any in stock and paying around an order of magnitude more for them.”

      Nonsense. The total eclipse is 16 days away. Leave time for shipping. These glasses are a buck each and according to the seller are certified by CE to ISO 12312-2:2015(E).

      6 PCS Solar Eclipse Glasses 2024, CE & ISO 12312-2 Certified AAS Recognized Paper Glasses, Eye Protection Approved for Direct Sun Viewing, Sun Safe Shades for 2024 Total Solar Eclipse-A02, 4.8 out of 5 stars 70 ratings, Amazon’s Choice, 7K+ bought in past month, $5.99 ($1.00 each). Two day shipping is available:

  3. There was an eclipse in 2012 during the Maker Faire in San Mateo. We knew about it and were looking forward to showing it to the grandkids who were with us. But we had to leave the Faire early because one of them got sick, or something (I don’t quite remember) and were driving through San Francisco and wondering why the light was so weird. Later on we realized we missed the whole thing.

  4. Typical. I lived in New Hampshire at the time of the 2017 eclipse. Now I live in southern Idaho.
    I think I’m getting this eclipse viewing thing backwards.

  5. As another way to view it, when we had one here back in the 90s, a friend brought in a medium format camera with a big ground glass focussing plate on the top. Gave an amazing image, nice and safely. Perfectly focussed and not looking directly at it. A TLR camera would be the cheapest option.

  6. My family lived in Wyoming for the 2017 eclipse. Now they live in Cleveland, how lucky! Free room! I should write an article so I can spell Lake Erie correctly, twice.

  7. Yep, it was a profoundly magical experience. Several years of planning I’d expected a hole in the sky but thinking or talking about something is completely different from actually experiencing it.

    You can look at all the pictures you want & and it’s never the same as being there.

    Closest so far was years of planning, getting the right equipment, & and then hundreds of hours of editing & a thousand more publishing to a VR platform. Just to give a taste of what it’s like to people who can’t travel or just want to remember what it was like.

    From your remote majestic hilltop, see the rapidly encroaching shadow of the Moon turn day into twilight and the entire scenic horizon becomes sunrise and sunset during the High Desert Eclipse.

  8. Don’t assume that just because you have a hotel reservation, you have a hotel reservation. They can and absolutely will cancel your reservation so they can sell it at a higher price to someone else.

    Your best bet is national forest land along the path of totality.

    1. Dude I wonder if we know each other somehow…if not..why the hell dont we know each other!? I live in southern Indiana and Eddington was actually my great, great, great grandfather! *now in Morgan Freeman Voice * One of the statements made in the second sentence is absolutely true the other is most definitely a cleverly imagined rad funny made up thing. Please contact me if you by the tech hutspah of the one Omnissiah see this reply homechili.

  9. You can also use a few layers of aluminized mylar space blanket (2-5) taped together at the edges! Just make sure you don’t scratch up the film too badly.

  10. Don’t pay for parking!

    As a witness to the last eclipse, I must say it is awe inspiring! Just don’t pay for a parking in advance. I was planning to attend a watch party in St Joseph, MO and I payed 25$ for a ticket. The night before I checked the weather forecast, and Cloudy Skies! So I changes plans, and in the morning my wife and me jumped in the car and drove to the Capital Jefferson City where the weather was predicted much better. Aside from thin high clouds which didn’t spoil the view, (just mad the pictures a little fuzzy) it was a perfect place to view the event.

    The place i chose in Jefferson City was a Walmart parking lot, which cost absolutely nothing! All you need is good weather, and a parking lot!

  11. Missed out on the zone of totality back in 2017 but this time around where I live will be almost dead center of the totality zone The only problem is there is almost always cloud cover around the Great Lakes that time of year

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