The Great American Total Solar Eclipse is happening April 8, 2024. Appropriately, tons of people are pretty geeked out about seeing it, especially if they got to witness the last one in 2017. Here’s what you’ll need to know in order to see it, and where you can go for the best viewing.

Remind Me: What’s the Big Deal?

A total solar eclipse is when the moon crosses directly in front of the daytime sun. In order to witness this, you will need to be in the “path of totality” — the narrow strip of land in which things perfectly line up. Otherwise, you will probably see a partial eclipse, in which the moon blocks anywhere from a little bit to almost all of the sun. Precisely when you’ll be able to see the eclipse depends on your location and time zone. The good news is: No matter where you live in the U.S., NASA is pretty sure you’ll be able to see something.

Solar eclipses are rare. The last “Great American Eclipse” (so dubbed because it was only viewable in its totality by areas in the United States) was August 21, 2017 — and Americans won’t be able to see another one until 2044.

What You’ll Need

Please, no matter how badly you might want to: Do not look directly at the sun. Even for a second. CNN’s Ashley Strickland explains:

“The retina may translate light into an electrical impulse that the brain understands, but one thing it can’t translate to your brain is pain. So even if you’re excited about the eclipse and think one brief glimpse at the sun before it completely hides behind the moon is worth it – it’s not. There’s no internal trigger that is going to let you know that you’ve looked at the sun for too long. Any amount of looking at it is too long.

Even the smallest amount of exposure can cause blurry vision or temporary blindness. The problem is, you won’t know whether it’s temporary.”

Need more convincing? Dr. Christopher Quinn, former president of the American Optometric Association, describes it this way: “When you look directly at the sun, the intensity of the light and the focus of the light is so great on the retina that it can cook it.” Yes, you read that right: It can cook your retina.

So what do you need to view this spectacular event? You have a few options:

Totally-Cool-Not-Nerdy-at-All Eclipse Glasses

Stores all over the country (and online retailers as well) have started selling those nifty eclipse viewing glasses that look a lot like the 3D ones movie theaters used to issue. They rarely cost more than $2 apiece, and they will save your eyeballs from becoming an appetizer for Indiana Jones. (More than 13,000 public libraries across the U.S. are handing them out for free, too.) Just please make sure they are legit eclipse glasses – fakes are circulating out there.

Filters

Eclipse glasses work because they are made with filters that meet the ISO 12312-2 standard, which reduces the sun’s brightness to a safe and comfortable level and blocks ultraviolet and infrared radiation. If you want to view the eclipse through a camera, telescope or binoculars (it works!) you will need to get a filter to place over your lens(es). (Some options here.) Otherwise, you’ll definitely cook your eyeballs. [Gulp.]

Pinhole Projector

You might remember making one of these as a kid — or making one with your kids. Here’s how to do it: 

  • Get two sheets of cardboard or stiff white card stock (paper plates work pretty well, too). 
  • Punch a tiny hole in the middle of one piece using a pin or thumbtack. Make sure the hole is round and smooth-edged.
  • With your back toward the sun, hold the piece of paper with the hole in it above your shoulder, allowing the sun to shine on and through it.
  • This allows the second piece of paper to act as a projector screen. Hold it at a distance (or place it on the ground) and you will see an inverted image of the sun projected through the pinhole.

You could really up the cool factor and make yourself one of these box pinhole projectors, too.

The Path of Totality Isn’t That Far Away

According to NASA, an estimated 31 million people live in the path of totality for this particular eclipse, a swath of land stretching from Texas to Maine — and passing through parts of western New York State. Why is it worth making a trip out to see the total eclipse? Because during the 2-4 minutes the moon is completely blocking the sun, it is actually safe to look directly at it.

And if you are really in the path of totality, you’ll get to see something everyone else can’t: the beauty of the sun’s corona hanging in a darkened sky.

Several websites enable you to track the path of the solar eclipse and plan a spot to witness totality. This one has the most gleefully excited coverage, but you can also check here, and NASA’s site, here. Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and especially Niagara Falls will offer gorgeous options for viewing the total solar eclipse, so be sure to check that off your bucket list if you haven’t already.

Top image by LeoPatrizi from Getty Images Signature, via Canva.com


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