Why is the 2024 total solar eclipse so unique?

(WJET) – There is a lot to look forward to with the total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8. It’s a completely different experience than a partial eclipse.

On April 8, the moon will “totally” block the sun, leaving the sun’s outermost layer, the corona, visible to the naked eye — like a glowing ring in the sky.

The Diamond Ring appears as the Moon passes beyond the edge of the sun during the Great American Solar Eclipse at Madras High School in Madras, Oregon, on Monday, August 21, 2017. The eclipse will be a total in certain parts of the United States from the East Coast to the West Coast. (Photo By Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

But there’s another factor that makes this eclipse even more special.

Like all solar eclipses, the moon sits between the sun and the Earth, but not all solar eclipses are the same. Unlike the total solar eclipse from August 21, 2017, the moon’s shadow from this year’s eclipse is larger because the moon is closer to the Earth.

Skywatchers will not only get a glimpse of total darkness but a longer period of darkness as well. Darren Williams, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State Behrend, said Erie is close to the shadow’s maximum length.

“Just about what it is, what it’s going to be. It’s going to be 150 miles across and it doesn’t really get much larger than that. The length of time that we’re under a total solar eclipse is 3 minutes and 40 seconds in Erie on April 8. And the longest you can be is around 4 minutes,” said Williams.

The moon’s orbit at the time of the eclipse will be near perigee, the point closest to Earth. But what if the moon’s orbit is near apogee, the point farthest from Earth?

In that case, you may get an annular solar eclipse, like the one from this past October.

“If the moon is further from the Earth and then you line up the Earth, moon and sun, the moon is not going to cover the entire disk of the sun,” said David Hurd, professor of astronomy at PennWest Edinboro. “In that path of angularity, you’re going to see the disk of the moon, but you’re also going to see a ring or an annular around the sun. And that’s what makes that an annular eclipse.”

(Credit: Michala Garrison and the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio)

Of course, safety is a top priority, and specially designed glasses are recommended to view the eclipse.

With the glasses on, you may also notice that the sun is near solar maximum.

“What that means for the casual observer is that hopefully, we’ll see a lot of sunspot activity since we, hopefully all of us, will be observing the sun safely. Emphasis on safely using approved eclipse shades,” Hurd added.

Most of the country will, at the very least, view a portion of the eclipse. Major cities like Dallas and Cleveland will get to experience totality.

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