As we leave winter we are blessed with all kinds of exciting annual events and celebrations in Chicago ranging from St Patrick’s Day celebrations to the spring equinox Chicagohenge spectacle.
Shortly after the latter sees the sun beam down the streets of Chicago signaling the start of spring on March 19th we will be treated to another incredible celestial spectacle under 3 weeks later.
On Monday, April 8th, 2024, a total solar eclipse will occur which is being dubbed “the Great North American Solar Eclipse” due to its expected exceptional length and visibility.
What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Moon, and Earth, align with the Moon passing between the Earth and the Sun thereby blocking sunlight and casting a shadow on Earth.
A lunar eclipse, on the other hand, is when Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon, causing the Moon to fall within the darkest part of Earth’s shadow.
There are three different kinds of solar eclipses: a partial eclipse, an annular eclipse, and a total eclipse.
What is a total solar eclipse?
If the moon does not line up directly with the sun and only blocks out some of the sun it’s a partial solar eclipse. Due to the misalignment, we see a crescent-shaped sun that is partially obscured by the moon.
If the moon and sun do line up directly but the sun is not fully obscured by the moon due to the moon being at its furthest point from earth and so smaller, an annular solar eclipse is created with the sun surrounding the moon causing a ‘ring of fire’ effect.
A total eclipse, however, is when the moon perfectly blocks out the sun transforming day into night. Total solar eclipses are far less common and the result of incredible serendipity given that the sun is 400 times the size of the moon and roughly 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon.
When and where will the next total solar eclipse happen?
The upcoming total solar eclipse will take place on Monday, April 8, 2024.
North America will by far experience the best of the total solar eclipse with the moon blocking the sun’s face along a path crossing Mexico, the United States, and Canada which is why it is being referred to as the “Great North American Solar Eclipse”.
The path of the Great North American Solar Eclipse’s totality will run from Mexico into the Southeast United States and up into East Canada.
According to NASA, the first location in continental North America that will experience totality is Mexico’s Pacific coast at around 11:07 a.m. PDT (1:07 p.m. CDT) before it exits continental North America on the Atlantic coast of Newfoundland, Canada, at 5:16 p.m. NDT (2:46 p.m. CDT).
In Illinois, this means that we will best experience the total solar eclipse around 2pm CDT. NASA writes that in Carbondale, Illinois totality begins at 1:59 p.m. with a peak at 2:01 p.m. CDT and totality ending at 2:03 p.m. CDT.
Why is the Great North American Total Eclipse special?
The Great North American Total Eclipse taking place in April is special for several reasons.
First of all this eclipse on April 8 will achieve a maximum duration of 4 minutes and 28.2 seconds in some parts. Over the last 100 years, the maximum duration of totality for 75 sampled solar eclipses averaged 3 minutes and 13 seconds. When a total solar eclipse lasts for anything over 4 minutes it is considered an exceptional solar eclipse.
There is also the size of the area the eclipse affects. The last “Great North American Eclipse” in 2017 spanned coast to coast captivating millions with a 70-mile-wide path of totality. In contrast, April 8th’s eclipse boasts a wider path of totality which will stretch over 125 miles making it visible to hundreds of millions.
“What distinguishes this celestial event is the emergence of the otherwise unseen outermost rays of the Sun, known as the corona. These rays radiate around the Moon, resembling a colossal halo of light that extends into space, reaching a distance up to five times the Sun’s diameter” writes the Farmers Almanac. “While other types of eclipses may cast shadows and dim the sky, none quite match the awe-inspiring and otherworldly effect generated by a total solar eclipse.”
More information can be found at science.nasa.gov.
[Featured image from Shutterstock]