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What’s all the buzz about this eclipse thing?

Rochester, New York (April 8, 2024) - What’s all the buzz about this eclipse thing?

Card photo: Luis Acosta, Getty Images

You have probably heard the craze across the United States about the upcoming total eclipse on April 8, 2024, and you might be wondering what the big deal is.

A total eclipse is totally a small thing (not). Curious about why? Want to know more about the eclipse? Want to participate in it? Feel free to continue!

What even is a total solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon fully covers the sun (or in better terms, blocks the sun’s light from reaching Earth), casting the areas within the effect line in total darkness for brief moments in time. A total eclipse is the only eclipse where taking off your eclipse glasses, when it is totally dark, is safe (but please refer to the safety guidelines provided here before you try that). While it happens every few years, it changes the impact range every single time. I’ll get into why this is important in a bit.

This impact range is referred to as the “path of totality.” Essentially, this means that anyplace that hits along the line of the path will be in total darkness during the eclipse. Within the path itself, the length of time the darkness will last spans anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 minutes, with the longer times being more centered on the path.

The length of the eclipse as a whole can last multiple hours, from the start of partial coverage to the return of the normal sun. As you get further away from the path, the less total darkness there will be – generally, this decreases by percentages. Any area outside the path of totality that still is impacted by the eclipse is considered within the partial eclipse range.

For example, on April 8, if you live in Austin, Texas, you will be within the path of totality and in 100% darkness. If you live in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, you will be in 90% darkness. If you live in Des Moines, Iowa, you will be at 80% darkness, and so on. The very tip of Washington will see only 15% darkness. So, ideally, for the most effective experience, you want to get as close to the path of totality as possible.

2024 Eclipse

(Photo: 2024’s path of totality. Image from TIME magazine:

Why should you care?

Total eclipses are expected to happen in 2026, 2027, 2028, 2030, 2033, 2034, 2035, and more. What’s the big deal then? As I alluded to previously, the path of totality changes every single time!

Based on what we know, the next total eclipse that will hit a good section of the United States is going to be in 2045, and many of the cities in the path this year won’t be within the path again for hundreds of years. The next closest eclipse will hit only Montana and a small portion of North Dakota in 2044, and in 2045, we will see another series of states getting in the path. Syracuse, New York, is not projected to be within the path of totality for 379 years after the 2024 eclipse.

2045 Eclipse

(Photo: 2045’s total solar eclipse projected path of totality. Image from TIME magazine:

If you live in or near a city that has a good percentage of darkness, it might be worth your time to prepare for the event. Because chances are, it won’t happen near you again in your — or even your great-grandkids’ — lifetimes.

How can you participate (and do so safely)?

The first thing to do would be to get to an area that is experiencing a good darkness percentage. The absolute best areas are going to be in the path of totality but, of course, it would still be a fun experience to be in the 80% to 95% sections.

I will say that the journey to the path of totality will probably be a nightmare because thousands of others will be doing the same. It is best to plan your trip far in advance. It will likely also be difficult to nail down a place to stay if you are traveling to a different city. Cities that are not in the direct path of totality might be manageable, even last minute, but I would recommend checking online or contacting people and places in that area to determine if it would be possible for you.

If you are just now learning about this, this is something you should note for 2045 and make plans to be on the path!

If you are already within one of the totality areas or nearby cities, you won’t be able to drive places due to heavy traffic, and some of your favorite parks, museums, and recreation centers will likely be taken over by thousands of people flocking to your area to see the eclipse. You should plan appropriately not only to see the eclipse yourself, but also for any daily tasks like driving to and from work. If you participate in your city’s activities and organizations around you, bear in mind that crowds may be very large, and identifying safe spaces where you can step away if you know you don’t do well in crowds will be worth your effort.

At my university, nearly all staff have been given the option to work remotely, and all faculty were allowed to make their own choice about whether they held class. If you have in-person doctor’s appointments or plans with friends or other obligations, you should check that getting to and from those plans will be possible for you. Having reliable broadband access is an important part of navigating the eclipse and ensuring you are doing what you need to.

As you go along your normal day or join in eclipse activities, you might notice changes in nature around you. This is because some animal species react very strongly to sudden changes in light. “Dairy cows return to the barn, crickets begin chirping, birds either go to roost or become more active, and whales breach in the seas,” according to National Geographic. This means that the animals in your area, though not necessarily domesticated animals, may suddenly become more or less active.

The eclipse provides a unique opportunity for all of us to participate in what NASA refers to as citizen science. Everything from noting down your observations of the animals to taking photos of the sun to monitoring temperatures around you, you can be a part of multiple ongoing initiatives to understand the eclipse’s impact!

Most importantly, there is a set of guidelines for viewing and participating in the total eclipse safely.

The main thing you absolutely need to be careful of is not damaging your eyes. In the same way that we all grew up being told not to look directly at the sun, do not look into the sun directly during the eclipse. Whether that’s with your naked eye or with sunglasses or through a camera lens, if it isn’t an approved set of eclipse glasses, or an approved and vetted eclipse viewing lens (solar filter) for those using cameras and telescopes, do not look at the sun. All eclipse glass must pass the “transmittance requirements of the ISO 12312-2 international standard,” advises the American Astronomical Society.

The bottom line is, viewing the eclipse without proper protection will severely and permanently damage your eyes. The only time you should attempt to take off your eclipse glasses is in the path of totality when it is completely dark. The moment light starts to peek through again, immediately put the glasses back on. You should not even consider taking your eclipse glasses off if you are not within the path of totality.

Since you will be out in the sun for an eclipse viewing, make sure you are protecting yourself from sun damage. That includes sunscreen, hats, and other skin protection that is appropriate for you (especially if you have pre-existing skin sensitivities).

Why am I talking about this?

I live in Rochester, New York, so the entire city is buzzing with total eclipse energy. We are in the same boat as Syracuse, and after April 8, we won’t see the total eclipse in our city for hundreds of years.

Across the whole city, events spanning not just the 8th, but the whole week, are taking place. For example, the Rochester Museum & Science Center is running a three-day festival for people to dance, learn more about astronomy, explore their museum, and have an all-around good time. The Seneca Park Zoo is hosting a weekend of fun, including workshops and special animal showcases.

At my university, the Rochester Institute of Technology, we are hosting our own Eclipse Fest on the 8th. We bought a pair of eclipse glasses for every student on campus and will be giving out limited edition T-shirts. We will have different arts and crafts activities, laser tag, bungee run, mini golf, axe throwing, and more. Students, staff, and faculty alike are excited for the event.

Whether you choose to celebrate the eclipse, we hope that you have an amazing day on April 8 and keep yourself safe!


About the Author: Myren Bobryk-Ozaki is a Communications and Marketing Intern who provides support to the Communications division of Connected Nation. In addition, Myren assists with writing, company blog and social media posting, website editing, and bringing creativity to new and existing communications materials.