Solar eclipse 2024: Millions of people in North America will see what promises to be a blockbuster

  • By Jonathan Amos
  • Science reporter

image source, Getty Images/St.Louis Post-Dispatch

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The good people of Carbondale will have to do it again, and for a long time

How lucky can the residents of Carbondale, Illinois be?

Celestial mechanics dictates that any point on Earth's surface should experience a total solar eclipse only once every 375 years on average.

The Midwestern city's 30,000 residents will probably laugh at that statistic, because they're about to see the moon block the sun's disk for the second time in seven years.

What's more, the upcoming 8 April eclipse will be better than what they saw in 2017. The sky will turn black for 4 minutes and 9 seconds, twice as long as last time.

image source, Good pictures

200,000 people are expected to flock to prime viewing spots in southern Illinois for The Great American Eclipse, Part II. But the same is true of the eclipse path from the Pacific coast of Mexico to the Atlantic coast of Canada. The upcoming event is set to be a blockbuster.

In 2017, the path of the deep shadow – the “Total” – ran from Oregon in the northwest of the US to South Carolina in the southeast. It actually covers some sparsely populated areas, including several national parks.

The 2024 event, by contrast, will include some major US urban areas such as Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Buffalo.

“It will be the most populous eclipse in the US, with 31.5 million people able to walk outside their homes to experience it,” Dr Kelly Korek, the US space agency's eclipse program manager, told BBC News.

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Artwork: Jets equipped with NASA instruments chase the shadow

As you might expect, NASA will do fewer experiments on the day, such as launching rockets into the shadow cast by the Moon to see how it affects Earth's upper atmosphere or its ionosphere. Instrumented jets also chase shadows.

“The reason we've flown airplanes is because it's so much cooler, and if you get up high in the atmosphere, you can really access wavelengths of light that you can't from the ground,” said Dr. Amir Cosby. Southwest Research Institute.

As the 2024 total solar eclipse begins in the Pacific Ocean, residents of Penryn Atoll, part of the Cook Islands, were greeted by a dark sun at dawn, 06:40 CKT (16:40 GMT).

The moon's shadow, or umbra, moves across Earth's surface at 2,500 km/h (1,500 mph) and will cross the Mexican coast at 11:07 MST (18:07 GMT) and the Rio Grande border between Mexico and Mexico. 13:27 CDT (18:27 GMT) in the US.

image source, Good pictures

The journey continues through 13 US states before entering the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick (16:32 ADT; 19:32 GMT) and Newfoundland (16:39 ADT; 19:39 GMT).

The Moon's shadow will rise above Earth's surface in the Atlantic Ocean at 21:55 CEST (19:55 GMT), about 1,120km (700 miles) west of Normandy, France.

Sorry, Europe; Maybe next time.

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A special day: promotional poster by astronomer and artist Tyler Nordgren (credit: tylernordgren.com)

Keen sky watchers often have their plans already in place.

They will study transportation and accommodation options and focus on historical weather patterns.

Chances of avoiding disruptive clouds are best in Mexico and Texas. But really, on any given day, in any given place, the weather can be your friend or cheerleader — and that's the case in Carbondale, too.

image source, SR Hubbell and M Druckmuller

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A total solar eclipse offers a rare opportunity to study the Sun's corona

With all the space telescopes trained on the Sun these days, you might think that an eclipse is very rare.

But total eclipses are special because they provide favorable conditions for studying the Sun's thin outer atmosphere – its corona.

It is in this magnetized, superheated “gas” of charged particles that the solar wind forms, and billions of tons of it periodically blast toward Earth, disrupting satellites, communications, and even power grids.

The corona is the surface of the Sun, illuminated by its halo. Satellites use devices called coronagraphs to prevent glare, but they are usually so wide that they block the view of light immediately above the edge of the star. It is in this zone that the main processes of corona occur.

Only during an eclipse, when the Moon's disk aligns with the Sun, all aspects of the corona can be accessed.

image source, Aberystwyth University

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British and American scientists are engaged in eclipse observation

British scientists have teamed up with NASA to deploy the instruments in Dallas. There will be a polarimeter to study the directional quality of light from the corona and a spectrometer to detect the behavior of excited iron atoms.

“During an eclipse, nature provides a unique opportunity to measure this region relatively easily and to see interactions between the Sun and the solar wind,” explained Dr Huw Morgan from Aberystwyth University.

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Even if you do see the eclipse, it's extremely important to do so safely.

But you don't need to be a professional scientist to participate in eclipse science. There are many citizen research projects. For example:

  • The Sunsketcher The initiative needs help measuring the exact shape of the Sun. Yes, it is round, but always slightly curved at the poles.
  • Eclipse Soundscapes Record how the natural world, especially animals, behave when plunged into darkness. The bees have given up flying, apparently.
  • The Globe Observer The project needs help recording temperature changes and cloud behavior.
  • And Eclipse MegaMovie DSLR cameras will once again be used to capture a detailed view of the event.

“Having people along the route will be a force multiplier for these observations, enabling us to take longer observations and better relate what's happening and changing,” said NASA's Dr. Liz MacDonald, who is coordinating many of the citizen science activities.

Go out and enjoy it, but do it safely. Do not look at the rising sun with the naked eye.

Montana and North Dakota will see the tail end of a total solar eclipse in 2044, but the next event to cross a large swath of the United States won't occur until next year.

“It's special, and that's why you should try to experience it,” Dr. Korek said.

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