Total solar eclipse 2024: What time, where and how to watch it

People in cities in Mexico, the US and Canada will be able to see the Moon cover the Sun on April 8

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Look up on April 8: a solar eclipse is coming to North America.

The celestial phenomenon is expected to be visible from Mexico's Pacific coast before skies darken over Texas and 14 other US states. It will then wrap up over parts of north-eastern Canada.

Here, The National tells you all you need to know about the rare event:

What is a total solar eclipse?

An eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, entirely covering the Sun's face along a small path across our planet's surface.

This is called the “path of totality”.

The daytime sky turns dark, akin to dusk or dawn. Birds start to roost and nocturnal animals have been known to wake up, tricked into believing night has arrived.

In places on the path of totality, people will be able to view the Sun's corona – its outer atmosphere – that typically is not visible due to solar brightness.

People observing from outside the path of totality will see a partial eclipse in which the Moon obscures most of the Sun's face but not all of it.

What's the eclipse path?

According to Nasa, the eclipse will begin over the South Pacific, with its path reaching Mexico's Pacific coast at about 11.07am local time before entering the US through Texas.

Its path then takes it through another 14 states: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, a tiny part of Tennessee, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, a small part of Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The path then enters Canada through Ontario and journeys through Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton, exiting continental North America on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland at 5.16pm local time.

A partial eclipse is due to be visible for people in all 48 contiguous US states, Reuters reported.

What are the best spots to see the eclipse?

Major cities and their metropolitan areas lay within or near the path of totality, making many densely populated areas some of the best spots to view the eclipse.

These include San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Fort Worth and Dallas in Texas; St Louis in Missouri; Detroit in Michigan; Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse in New York; and Toronto and Montreal in Canada.

How long will the eclipse last?

The full eclipse will last longer than usual because the Moon will be 360,000km from Earth, one of the year’s closest approaches. The closer the Moon is to Earth, the bigger it appears in the sky from our perspective, resulting in an especially long and intense period of Sun-blocked darkness.

Totality will last the longest over Mexico at 4 minutes, 28 seconds.

Elsewhere along the track, such as in Syracuse, New York, totality will last only 90 seconds.

How can you safely watch an eclipse?

Experts warn it is unsafe to look directly at the bright Sun without using specialised eye protection designed for solar viewing. Viewing an eclipse through a camera lens, binoculars or telescope without making use of a special-purpose solar filter can cause severe eye injury.

They advise using safe solar-viewing glasses or a safe hand-held solar viewer, noting that regular sunglasses are not safe for watching the event. The only moment it is considered safe for people to remove eye protection during a total solar eclipse is the brief time when the Moon completely blocks the Sun's surface.

Will there be a comet during the eclipse? Will other planets be visible?

During totality, some people may be able to spot a comet along with four planets: Jupiter will be to the left of the Sun and Venus to the right, and then Saturn and Mars will be to the right of Venus. Three other planets will be in the vicinity but virtually impossible to see with the naked eye.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is swinging past Earth, as it does every 71 years. It will be near Jupiter during the eclipse.

“There is lots to see and not that long a time,” Anita Cochran of the University of Texas at Austin told AP.

When was the last total solar eclipse in the US?

The US has not experienced a total solar eclipse since August 2017.

A “ring of fire” solar eclipse crossed a part of the country in October.

When is the next solar eclipse?

The next total solar eclipse will not be until 2026, when it will graze the North, touching Greenland, Iceland and Spain.

The next one in 2027 will march across Spain and northern Africa, with totality lasting 6.5 minutes.

North Americans will have to wait until 2033 for another total solar eclipse but it will be limited to Alaska. In 2044, western Canada, Montana and North Dakota will have front-row seats. And in 2045, the US will once again experience a coast-to-coast total solar eclipse.

Updated: April 08, 2024, 7:55 PM