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A Rare Solar Eclipse

On April 8, the United States will experience a total solar eclipse. How should you prepare? 

A total solar eclipse is shown at totality.
© teekid—E+/Getty Images

On April 8, North America will experience a rare event: a total solar eclipse. In some parts of Mexico, the United States, and Canada, the daytime sky will briefly go completely dark.

During a total solar eclipse, the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, blocking sunlight from reaching some areas of Earth. Along a narrow band on the surface of our planet, called the path of totality, the sky goes completely dark for a short time and only the outer edge of the Sun (called the corona) can be seen.

On April 8, totality, or complete darkness, will begin over the Pacific Ocean and pass over Mazatlán, a city on the west coast of Mexico at about 2:07 p.m. Eastern time. From there, the Moon’s shadow will move over Mexico and into the U.S. and then Canada. Totality in the United States begins in Texas just before 2:30 p.m. Eastern time and ends in Maine at just after 3:30 p.m. Eastern time. Each location in the path of totality will be completely dark for only a few minutes or even seconds. But things won’t go back to normal right away. Before and after totality, each location will experience a partial solar eclipse—a period when the Moon is partially blocking the Sun.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
People who live in the path of totality will experience a total eclipse. In other areas, only a certain percentage of the Sun will be blocked from view.

North Americans who live outside the path of totality will experience a partial eclipse. Depending on their location, the Moon’s shadow might still cover quite a bit of sunlight, making the experience worth watching. The rarity of the event also makes it worth paying attention to. Most of the United States won’t experience another total solar eclipse until 2044. (Part of Alaska will experience a total eclipse in 2033.)

Experts say it’s important to experience the eclipse safely. Looking directly at the Sun is dangerous, even during an eclipse. If you’re planning to gaze up at the sky on April 8, do so only through a device that’s designed to protect your eyes, such as paper eclipse glasses or a handheld solar viewer.

© LeoPatrizi—E+/Getty Images, Source: NASA
This table shows when totality, or total darkness, will begin and end in different U.S. towns and cities.

Did You Know?

During solar eclipses, many animals change their behavior. Researchers have observed spiders dismantling their webs and nocturnal bats emerging from their roosts, as if these creatures think it’s nighttime.

A bat that is sleeping while hanging upside down on a branch opens its eyes when the Moon blocks the Sun.

© Dorozhkinak/Dreamstime.com, NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

No Glasses? Here’s What You Can Do

Two hands hold a piece of paper with a rectangle of foil in the center over another piece of paper in sunlight.
NASA/JPL

Never look at the Sun without proper protection. You can use a pinhole camera to experience a partial or total solar eclipse without looking at the sky. Here’s how to make one.

What You’ll Need

  • Two pieces of white card stock or paper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Tape
  • A pin, paper clip, or sharp pencil

Steps to Make the Camera

  1. Cut a 1 to 2-inch (2.5 to 5centimeter) square or rectangular hole in the middle of one of the pieces of card stock.
  2. From your aluminum foil, cut a rectangle that’s larger than the hole in the card stock.
  3. Tape the foil over the hole in the card stock.
  4. Use the pin, paper clip, or pencil to poke a small hole in the foil.
  5. Just before the eclipse, put the second piece of card stock on the ground as you stand with the Sun behind you.
  6. Hold the first piece of card stock (the one with the foil) over the second piece. You’ll see a circle of light on the second piece of card stock. The farther apart the two pieces of card stock are, the larger the circle will be.

As the Moon passes in front of the Sun, the Moon’s shadow will pass over the circle of light.

Total Solar Eclipse

© Din Iulian Silviu—Creatas Video+/Getty Images Plus

Did you know there’s more than one type of eclipse? You can learn more about eclipses at Britannica.

WORD OF THE DAY

aberrant

PART OF SPEECH:
adjective
Definition:
: different from the usual or natural type : unusual or abnormal
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