March 14, 2023
Paul J. Heney
Total solar eclipses are perhaps nature’s greatest spectacle — and Northeast Ohio will be perfectly positioned for the show on Monday, April 8th, 2024. The continental U.S.’s second total solar eclipse in a decade — and the last until 2044 — will cross the country from Texas to Maine, with much of Ohio set to plunge into darkness, including the entire Cleveland metro area.
While you may have heard this news, one thing you may not have heard is that you really must get into the path of totality for 2024 — that long, narrow band (about 125 miles wide) where the Sun is completely covered. Being close by isn’t good enough. You’ve got to get in on the action by being on the path of totality.
The Path of Totality
So why is 100% coverage (also known as totality) so important? And why is it so rare to see a total solar eclipse, anyhow?
Well, one of the most interesting coincidences about life here on Earth is that the Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon — but it’s also located 400 times further away. Because of that, both of them just happen to appear the same size in our skies. That, plus the slight 5-degree tilt to the lunar orbit, means that the Moon doesn’t cover up the Sun all too often. And even when it does, totality never lasts longer than about 7.5 minutes. Oftentimes, the narrow band where totality happens may mostly cross empty oceans or only hit landmasses that aren’t easily accessible.
For this particular eclipse, the path sweeps northeastward from the South Pacific to the North Atlantic, crossing a large swath of North America in the process. In the U.S., the band of totality stretches from Texas to Maine. The 2024 eclipse has a maximum totality of 4 minutes and 28 seconds, which will occur in northern Mexico. In Downtown Cleveland, we’ll be treated to a completely submerged and very respectable 3 minutes and 49 seconds of darkness. The largest of any metro area in the world. Trust us, you want to be there.
What’s Happening In The Land?
You’ll come to The Land for the rare celestial wonder, but you’ll stay for food, fare, and fun to be had while you’re here. Cleveland is home to NASA’s Glenn Research Center, named after former Astronaut John Glenn, and is one of ten centers in the U.S. The NASA Glenn Visitor Center is located at the lakefront, Great Lakes Science Center, which is sure to fulfill your thirst for knowledge on all things space related. Expect tons of programming from both of our favorite scientific institutions around the Eclipse. Don't worry, we've got you covered on all the details.
What Will Be Seen?
There are so many interesting things that happen right around (and during) that 3 minutes 49 seconds of totality that Cleveland will experience. We’ve all experienced numerous sunrises and sunsets in our lifetimes, but a total eclipse compresses the normal 45-60 minutes of twilight into just a couple of minutes, a sight that’s indescribable.
Minutes before totality, the light becomes increasingly peculiar as the Sun’s disk is reduced to a smaller and smaller sliver. Shadows become sharper, and the color of everything seems somehow different. Animals and birds often act strangely, unsure if nighttime is approaching. There can be a several-degree temperature drop, and the local difference between areas of cooler and warmer temperatures may cause a slight wind to pick up. As totality approaches, some viewers have reported ghostly shadow bands on the ground — not unlike the brighter wavy reflections you can see at the bottom of a swimming pool on a sunny day.
In the final moments, a dark mass (actually the shadow of the moon) begins to creep up from the horizon. As the last fraction of the Sun disappears, it often breaks up into several pieces of the solar surface, seen gleaming through valleys on the Moon’s edge — something known as Bailey’s Beads. This generally ends with the Diamond Ring Effect, where one last small speck of the Sun is left shining through for a second or two as the solar corona (the Sun’s outer atmosphere) comes into view around the rest of the darkened Moon’s surface.
The Totality Phase
During the totality phase, it’s noticeably darker, not like nighttime, but closer to a deep twilight or a snowy winter night with a Full Moon. A few of the brighter stars become visible, as well as any of the brighter planets that are in the sky. The entire horizon, 360°, has the colors of the sunset, truly a stunning thing to experience. At this point (and only at this point), you can look directly at the eclipsed sun with the naked eye, to see the delicate, wispy solar corona. (Please see the very important eye protection information here.) If we’re lucky, we’ll also be able to see vibrantly red solar flares arcing off different parts of the solar surface all around the darkened Moon.
After a little less than 4 minutes, the process starts in reverse, beginning with the Diamond Ring Effect — the closing of a most profound experience. Guarantee you’ll be glad you headed to The Land to stand in the shadow of the moon.