The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In two years, a full solar eclipse will travel from Texas to Maine

The total solar eclipse, lasting up to four minutes, will shroud a 124-mile-wide swath of the country in darkness.

A total solar eclipse is seen from Casper, Wyo., on Aug. 21, 2017. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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This article, first published on April 8, 2019, has been updated.

Four and a half years ago, a total solar eclipse captivated the nation. Twenty million people crowded into the path of totality, a mystical band that stretched from Salem, Ore., to Charleston, S.C. The coast-to-coast sudden nightfall united Americans, who watched the milky-white tendrils of the sun’s atmosphere drift elegantly into space for up to two minutes and 40 seconds. By all metrics, it was a magical experience. In two years, you will have another chance to bask in the otherworldly.

A total solar eclipse will again cast the moon’s shadow on a swath of the Lower 48. The moon’s umbra will sweep onshore at the Pacific coast in Mazatlan, Mexico, just after 1 p.m. on April 8, 2024. From there, it will cross the Rio Grande west of San Antonio, where residents in the far northwestern suburbs will experience totality.

Fort Worth is also in the track, but not as close to the centerline as its neighbor Dallas. Downtown Dallas will see one minute and 24 seconds more of totality than Fort Worth.

The shadow will move northeast, clipping the southeastern corner of Oklahoma as it cruises into Arkansas at more than 1,700 mph. A chunk of Missouri and Illinois will fall in the western reaches of the path, including Carbondale, Ill. — ground zero for the 2017 eclipse.

Paducah, Ky., and Evansville, Ind., might be good options for eclipse chasers looking for smaller, less-congested cities that still offer a selection of flights. Of course, it’ll be another year or so until you can book — but it’s never too early to start brainstorming.

Indianapolis, Cleveland, Toledo, Buffalo, Rochester, N.Y., and Burlington, Vt., also are in the path of totality. This includes Niagara Falls, the landmark that will be transformed during three minutes and 28 seconds of totality shortly after 3:17 p.m.

The weather is the ultimate wild card, but you can maximize your odds of clear skies by sticking to climatology. Clouds are more likely as one heads farther northeast into the Ohio Valley and New England, while the Texas Hill Country and the southern Texas plains are oftentimes drier, with a better shot at sunshine.

The best part? The 2024 eclipse will be better than the one in August 2017. Why? Its duration will be nearly two minutes longer at peak: four minutes and 28 seconds vs. two minutes and 41 seconds. So until just southeast of Indianapolis, those huddled along the track’s center will get a whopping four minutes of totality just after 2 p.m. The three-minute-and-20-second contour extends all the way up to Maine.

The increased duration is a symptom of two factors: shadow width and speed.

The closer the moon is to Earth during the eclipse, the bigger its shadow is. The umbra was about 72 miles wide in 2017, but it will be 120 miles across in 2024. Because it covers more real estate, more people will live in its path — plus, finding a spot might be a little bit easier.

But that’s just part of what determines eclipse duration. The speed of the shadow is also a factor — it depends on the shadow’s path, the Earth’s rotation, the orbital velocities of the moon and Earth, and the elevation of the sun and moon in our sky. Simply stated, it’s far from simple.

Ordinarily, a slower shadow speed would mean a longer eclipse. But the 2024 eclipse’s shadow will move 111 mph faster at the location of greatest eclipse than it did in 2017. (Speed varies significantly elsewhere on the eclipse path.) So why the longer duration? The moon’s shadow in 2024 will be about twice as long and more than 2.7 times larger in area. Its size compensates for its swifter speed, leading to a longer show this time around.

It’s not just quantity of eclipse time that will be better in 2024 — the eclipse will be of a greater quality. That’s because of its greater magnitude. Because the moon’s shadow will be larger, it will shunt twilight closer to the horizon — leading to a darker sky during totality. More stars and planets will be visible, and the temperature will cool more dramatically.

Solar eclipses aren’t terribly rare, but seeing one is. Though a total solar eclipse occurs on Earth on average once every 18 months, seeing them isn’t always easy. They often occur over the ocean, remote areas or locations that require days of travel. If you were to stay still, you’d see one about every 375 years — so 2024 is a big opportunity for those looking to cross something off their bucket lists.

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