On Oct. 14, 2023, and April 8, 2024, the entire United States and millions around the world will be able to view a solar eclipse.
There are three different kinds of solar eclipses: total, annular, and partial. When the Moon is far from the Earth, its size is too small to completely cover the Sun, thus an annular eclipse is observed, like what is expected on Oct. 14, 2023. When the Moon is close to the Earth, its larger size completely covers the Sun, causing a total eclipse, which will occur on April 8, 2024. A partial eclipse occurs when the Earth, Moon, and Sun are not perfectly aligned so only a part of the Sun will appear to be covered, giving it a crescent shape. During a total or annular solar eclipse, people outside the totality/annularity paths will see a partial solar eclipse.
The Eclipse Experience
Mitzi Adams, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Heliophysics and Planetary Science Branch Assistant Chief, shares her observations during the five total eclipses she has experienced. “It is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It’s sort of like somebody puts a bowl on top of Earth right above where you’re standing. In the middle of the day, it gets darker, but you can still see light around the rim.” Adams explains. “You can essentially observe a sunrise or sunset. The temperatures cool. The wind picks up. The birds may go to roost, or the coyotes may howl.”
During an annular eclipse like the one coming up on Oct. 14, even with the sun covered up to 90%, the sky remains fairly bright. Those in the path of annularity will have a chance to observe the famed “ring of fire” effect, but it is important to manage your expectations and to remember that solar viewing glasses will be needed during the event’s entirety.
Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office Lead and eclipse enthusiast, says he is most looking forward to the 2024 total eclipse because totality, when the sun is covered 100%, will last much longer than the last total eclipse in 2017 – up to nearly four and a half minutes.
In any of the upcoming eclipse events, in our technology-fueled world, you may also experience some electronic changes as the moon moves across Earth and the ionosphere cools.
The ionosphere forms the boundary between the Earth’s lower atmosphere – where we live and breathe – and the vacuum of space. It is formed when particles are charged, or ionized, by solar radiation. A total solar eclipse effectively “turns off” the ionosphere’s primary charging mechanism, mimicking nighttime conditions, so the many communications signals passing through the ionosphere could be disrupted.
GPS signals could produce location errors. Radio waves could change, sometimes even allowing Ham Radio operators to send or receive transmissions over longer distances.
The ionosphere is also home to many NASA satellites, including the International Space Station.
Solar Eclipse Science
Experiencing an eclipse is one way that everyone can participate in NASA Science. Depending on your access to different types of technology (phones, laptops, telescopes), there are several NASA Citizen Science projects you can participate in that relate to the Sun’s corona and the effects of the Moon’s shadow on Earth’s upper atmosphere.