Visible In NYC: The April 8th Solar Eclipse

For the first time in decades, New York State will be in the path of totality for the eclipse on April 8, 2024. Learn more about how eclipses work, scientific research on eclipses, when to view the eclipse this year, and how to watch it safely!

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By Skye McArthur

New York State will witness a thrilling moment on April 8, 2024. For the solar eclipse on April 8, New York will be on the path of totality for the first time since 1925. Cities in northwest upstate New York, including Syracuse and Rochester, are in the path of totality where the Sun will appear to be completely obscured by the moon. Although New York City is not on this path, NYC residents can still enjoy a breathtaking view of a partial solar eclipse. 

Solar eclipses are astronomical phenomena that have fascinated scientists for centuries. Civilizations have been intrigued by the sudden darkness that falls upon the Earth. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon perfectly aligns with the Earth and the Sun as the Moon passes between them. This results in the sky suddenly turning dark as the Moon casts a shadow on a portion of the Earth. Eclipses occur only about twice a year because the Moon’s orbit is tilted five degrees relative to the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Since the Earth rotates, the Moon’s shadow becomes trail-like, and the trail is referred to as the “path of totality.” Additionally, different types of solar eclipses are rarer than others, and the April 8 eclipse is one of the rarer types. 

There are three different types of solar eclipses. During a total solar eclipse, the Sun is fully covered by the Moon. During a partial solar eclipse, only a portion of the Sun is obscured by the Moon. A solar eclipse could be a total solar eclipse for one region while simultaneously being a partial eclipse for another. For an annular solar eclipse, the Moon is centered in front of the Sun, but doesn’t completely obscure the Sun—this produces a “ring of fire” where the Sun’s glow takes the shape of an annulus, hence the name. Finally, a hybrid solar eclipse—the rarest type—behaves as a combination of both total and annular eclipses. At first, the eclipse might appear as a ring of fire when the Moon is perfectly centered in front of the Sun. As the Moon’s shadow appears to move due to planet rotation, the eclipse might resemble a total eclipse as it covers the entirety of the Sun. Thus, this once-in-a-century type of eclipse alternates between total and annular solar eclipses. Additionally, a common misconception is that a solar eclipse is the same thing as a lunar eclipse. During a lunar eclipse, instead of the Moon’s shadow being cast on Earth, the Earth casts a shadow on the Moon. Lunar eclipses occur when the Earth comes directly between the Sun and the Moon.

Not only do total solar eclipses serve as natural spectacles, but they also provide scientists with valuable insight regarding the Earth’s atmosphere. The obstruction of solar energy during a solar eclipse allows scientists to study the Sun’s effects on the upper atmosphere, where the solar energy ionizes the particles in a layer called the ionosphere. Understanding the ionosphere is essential to humanity because this atmospheric layer is home to some low-orbit satellites and communication signals that are part of the GPS system. At night, the particles in the ionosphere are no longer charged by solar energy, so the particles recombine and the ionosphere becomes less dense. This also occurs during a solar eclipse and results in a better transmission of communication signals. Scientists can then use various electromagnetic signals to map out densities throughout the ionosphere. Thus, the optimal locations for signal transmission within the ionosphere is identifiable. Furthermore, since the Sun is temporarily covered, scientists are able to exclusively observe the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere. During the August 2017 solar eclipse, scientists collected data on the corona’s behavior to predict how solar material is expelled from the Sun and causes disturbances near Earth, and they used the data to predict the corona’s appearance during the July 2019 eclipse. Predicted Sciences Inc., supported by NASA, used eclipse photos of the 2017 eclipse and measurements of the Sun’s magnetic field to develop a solar eclipse model that predicts the magnetic field shapes of the corona over time. To the scientists’ delight, the corona’s behavior in the 2019 eclipse resembled the prediction made by the computer model. 

For the NYC residents who wish to catch the April 8 solar eclipse, the Moon will start approaching the Sun at approximately 2:10 p.m. By 3:25 p.m., 90% of the Sun will be covered by the Moon. The optimal viewing time spans from 3:20 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., during which the maximum amount of Sun is obscured. After 3:30 p.m., the Moon will start to move past the Sun. Finally, at around 4:40 p.m., the Sun will be fully exposed once again. 

Although viewing a rare eclipse in NYC or elsewhere in New York State is enticing,you must follow certain safety guidelines to ensure that your wonderful experience doesn’t turn into a trip to the hospital. For a direct view of the eclipse, wear a pair of solar glasses. These special glasses are made of black polymer which makes them 100,000 times darker than regular sunglasses. As a result, nearly all light from the Sun will be blocked, allowing you to safely view the eclipse without harming your eyes. Otherwise, the solar rays become more concentrated by the lens behind your eye’s iris and can burn holes in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue behind your eyeball. Solar glasses are available at camera shops such as Adorama and B&H. Make sure to purchase from trustworthy vendors to ensure optimal safety. Additionally, do not view the eclipse through a telescope, camera lens, binoculars, etc. Even if such optical devices have filters, the concentrated solar rays will penetrate through the filter and harm your eyes. You can directly view the eclipse without any eye protection during totality—when the Moon completely obscures the Sun. Once more of the Sun is exposed, eye protection will again be required for optimal safety.

Needless to say, the April 8 solar eclipse will be an exciting and special event for New Yorkers. Eclipses can provide valuable insight into the Earth and Sun’s atmospheres for scientists as well as entertainment for the general public. However, the weather conditions for April 8 are still uncertain. If it is cloudy or rainy, the eclipse won’t be as visible but can still be recognized, especially during totality. The next solar eclipse visible in NYC will be in 2044, so don’t miss out on this astronomical wonder and remember to view the eclipse safely!