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Did you miss the event NASA hailed as “Woodstock 200 times over”?
Even if you weren’t one of the estimated 220 million people to see the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse to cut across the continental United States in nearly a century, don’t feel too bummed — it’s not like you’ll have to settle for future eclipses of lame Woodstock 2 caliber that fail to live up to the original. Or wait a century to see the next one.
There’s arguably an even greater celestial show ahead, when North America sees its next total solar eclipse, on April 8, 2024. Granted, that’s nearly seven years away, but in the world of total solar eclipses that hit this part of the globe, that’s a pretty short time to wait. Before 2017’s big show, the last total solar eclipse to touch the United States was in February 1979, over the Pacific Northwest.
Plus, when it comes to eclipse-viewing travel, you can never plan too early, especially if you want to avoid hotel stays of $500 a night, with a two-night minimum charge, brazenly quoted by hotel managers in towns that few people had ever heard of before they’d lucked out in a cosmic lottery (you know what we’re talking about Hopkinsville, Ky.).
While the 2024 total solar eclipse may not see weather conditions as favorable as 2017’s (according to astronomers’ projections, anyway), this next lunar showstopper will be no slouch, either, cutting a path from Mexico into Texas, then through the Northeast (Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, specifically) — with pit stops along the way in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio — and, finally, into east Canada. In all, the 2024 eclipse will see a total duration time of 4 minutes and 28 seconds, near the city of Nazas, in Durango, Mexico. (The longest possible duration of any total solar eclipse is 7 minutes and 32 seconds.)
And here’s the kicker.
“There is no place in 2017 even close to Nazas in duration,” says NASA solar scientist Alex Young. You heard that? No place. The best that 2017’s “Great American Eclipse” can muster is two minutes and roughly 40 seconds near the city of Carbondale, Ill. Plus, although 2017’s eclipse covered more land, 2024’s will pass over more densely populated areas.
The buzz for 2024 is already growing, especially in Maine, which hasn’t had a total solar eclipse visible to it since 1963 and won’t experience its next, after 2024’s, until 2079. Maine astronomer Edward Gleason set up a 2024 eclipse-countdown website faster than Jay-Z filed to trademark his twins’ names. He’s not stopping there, either.
“We’re planning on stockpiling eclipse glasses starting sometime in 2020, and no, I’m not kidding,” says Gleason, factoring in the glasses’ expiration date for safe usage. “I broke a cardiac ward’s worth of hearts this past week telling people we were sold out of glasses … one cannot start too early.”
That pre-planning includes making friends.
“Everyone has over six years to cultivate friends in San Antonio, Austin or Dallas-Ft. Worth,” says Carolyn Sumners, vice president of astronomy at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. She’s placing her bets on Texas for some of the best eclipse-viewing opportunities.
For a more immediate lunar fix, world travelers can experience total solar eclipses in 2019 (in Argentina and Chile), 2021 (Antarctica) and 2023 (Australia, South Asia and the Pacific). Astronomers predict this century alone will see a total of 68 total solar eclipses, one about every 17.6 months.
Whatever you do, though, you may want to plan ahead.
With all the traffic jams that surrounded 2017’s eclipse, local authorities hadn’t feared astronomy this much since the witch trials, says Gleason, who recommends consulting your local astronomy society for eclipse information. “We are all very amiable because we’ve never experienced robust social lives,” he says.
More important, Gleason adds, “If you intend to observe the eclipse, be sure to choose your location carefully; even sparsely populated Maine will be a bustling maelstrom of humanity on April 8, 2024.”