If you want to travel to view the stunning total eclipse in April, make sure to book your accommodations early or risk being disappointed. (Creators.com illustration)
If you want to travel to view the stunning total eclipse in April, make sure to book your accommodations early or risk being disappointed. (Creators.com illustration)

A few years have passed since we in North America enjoyed a good eclipse of the sun.

Over the next eight months, however, we’ll experience two of them, and I want to give you plenty of warning to determine if, when, where and how you’ll be viewing them.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon in its orbit around the Earth passes between our planet and the sun and blocks out at least part of our star from view.

The first occurs on Oct. 14. Most of us will see a partial eclipse, but those who travel to the centerline — a narrow path from Oregon to Texas — will enjoy an unusual “annular” eclipse.

This occurs when the moon appears slightly smaller than normal and the sun appears slightly larger than normal, and the moon eclipses only the central portion of the sun’s disk, producing a weird ring of sunlight — an annulus.

As much fun as this is to watch, it’s only the warmup act for the main event on April 8, 2024. On that day, we in North America will experience our first total solar eclipse in seven years.

While most will see a partial eclipse, those who travel to the eclipse centerline — the narrow path stretching from Mexico through Maine and northeastern Canada — will experience the stunningly beautiful phenomenon known as totality, in which the sun is blotted out completely, and its outer atmosphere — the corona — radiates spectacularly in a semidarkened sky.

Many folks, unfortunately, will be content to stay where they are and watch only a partial eclipse instead.

“Why should it matter?” they wonder. “What difference could there possibly be between a partial and a total eclipse?”

Those who’ve ever ventured into the path of totality, however, know the answer.

As a veteran of 18 total solar eclipses, I can say without exaggeration that totality is the most alien experience one can have on this planet.

Everything in nature reacts to the sun’s daytime disappearance, and it’s something you’ll remember forever.

This will be the last total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States until 2044, so if you want to see this one, you must begin planning immediately.

Tens of millions of skywatchers from around the world will be converging on the centerline, and lodging there is already disappearing fast. If you want to travel to the path of totality, make plans now. I guarantee that waiting too long will leave you disappointed.

Many eclipse chasers — myself included — will travel to Mazatlan in Mexico, where sky conditions are projected to be the best along the entire eclipse path.

If you’d like to join me to experience this remarkable sky show — and learn how to watch and photograph it safely — please drop me a note at dennis@mammana.com and I’ll send you details about our exciting and fun group tour.

Wherever you view it, you’ll need to protect your eyes. Learn more about proper solar viewing filters on the Astronomy by Night website. And if you want to know where to buy the filters, check out the EclipseWise website. Be sure to order these soon, however, or you could be out of luck come eclipse day.

I’ll be writing more about these great sky shows in a later column. Stay tuned!

Dennis Mammana is an astronomy writer, author, lecturer and photographer working from under the clear dark skies of the Anza-Borrego Desert in the San Diego County backcountry. Contact him at dennis@mammana.com and connect with him on Facebook: @dennismammana. The opinions expressed are his own.