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One year from now: the next rare Solar Eclipse hits the U.S.

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Before 2017's solar eclipse, it was 38 years since the last one; the next after 2024 not for another 20 years!

By: Chris C. Nelson, Publisher/Owner

Solar eclipse.  Mother Nature's most prized phenomena, held out for the patient and favorite sky-gazers on this beautiful planet.  A year from now, North America, including a chunk of the United States will be treated to a remarkable celestial event.  April 8th, 2024, the path of totality will stretch from Texas all the way up to Maine, allowing millions to walk outside their homes and view this rare and awe-inspiring event.  I had the chance to cover this back in 2017 when I was in TV news, in Carbondale, Illinois.  It just may bring me back once again next year.  

Before we get into all the specifics, let's make sure we understand what a solar eclipse actually is.  A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, blocking the Sun's light and casting a shadow on the Earth's surface.  If you're standing in the path of the Moon's shadow, you will experience a total solar eclipse, where the Sun is completely blocked by the Moon and the sky turns dark like dusk.  It's on the most unreal natural phenomenons you'll ever get to experience.

You may ask, why is this such a big deal? Well, it’s incredibly rare. I had the pleasure of covering the solar eclipse for CBS Milwaukee when I was a TV meteorologist on August 21st, 2017.

I couldn’t quite comprehend the rarity and special occasion until I began doing research and took part of the day. We watched it at Southern Illinois University’s football stadium in Carbondale, IL. The number of people that traveled to Salukis territory was shocking to me. It was estimated that 250,000+ people crammed into the small city and half were around the stadium to watch. After nature did its thing and showed us the eclipse, it took us 18 hours to get back to Milwaukee. It’s normally a six hour drive.

I mentioned the rarity of a total eclipse. Before I had the chance to see it six years ago, there hadn't been an eclipse in the United States since February 26th, 1979! After next year’s rare event, there won’t be another until 2044.

“Total solar eclipses are relatively rare events because they require the Moon to be at just the right distance from the Earth, and in just the right position to completely block the Sun’s light,” explains Dr. Angela Speck, a professor of astrophysics at the University of Missouri. Dr. Speck goes on to explain that, “While partial solar eclipses are more common, they don’t have the same impact as a total solar eclipse. During a total solar eclipse, the sky can turn dark, the temperature can drop significantly, and the stars can become visible in the middle of the day. It’s truly a unique and unforgettable experience.”

If you’re like me, and you’re interested in experiencing the 2024 solar eclipse, there are a few things you should know. First, the path of totality will stretch from Texas to Maine, with a width of approximately 100 miles. Within this path, the Moon will completely block the Sun for a period of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Something to keep in mind, not all locations within the path of totality are created equally. Each will have its own unique view to the party. “The best locations to view the 2024 solar eclipse will be those with clear skies and minimal light pollution,” explains Dr. Speck. “Cities and urban areas can create a lot of light pollution, which can make it difficult to see. Areas with high elevation and clear skies, like the Rocky Mountains or the Great Plains, will offer the best viewing.”

We planned our TV trip three days before the main event. It was a disaster. Our news crew stayed three hours from Carbondale, set our alarm at 1 a.m., and made it down by the morning show. I had several cut-ins and live reports educating our viewers on why they should take the time to watch this beauty. Since I am no longer in news, next year will be all on my dime. I have already started talking to different hotels in different cities to find out when to book. My three cities I am considering are: near Dallas, Texas; Cape Girardeau, Missouri; or Carbondale, Illinois. If you’re planning on traveling to view the solar eclipse, it’s important to start planning now. Hotel rooms, camp sites, and other accommodations will fill up fast.

Safety and education are why we seek studies and dip our toes into the science world. While the solar eclipse will be an incredible sight to behold, it’s important to know what you can and cannot do when the eclipse takes place. Looking directly at the Sun, even during an eclipse, can cause permanent damage to your eyes. Special glasses or handheld viewers with solar filters are a must-have for anyone looking to get in on the fun. Additionally, weather will play a key role. If you really want to take part in seeing Mother Nature’s wonder, make sure you can be flexible with travel in case clouds or storm systems begin to take  away your experience. “Cloud cover or other weather condition scan make it difficult or even impossible to see the eclipse,” says Dr. Speck. “It’s important to have a backup plan in case your primary viewing location is experiencing poor weather conditions.”

One things is for sure, if you start to do research and you are considering making the trek into the line of totality begin the journey now.  I did mine three days before the main event, and it took me three days to recover because I didn't sleep for almost 48 hours. Research solar eclipse, be safe, and let's begin the countdown to one of the greatest shows our Solar System puts on for us.

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