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Next year will be the last chance to see a total solar eclipse from the U.S. for more than 20 years

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Posted at 11:15 AM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-03 13:15:12-05

The next total solar eclipse – when the moon completely blocks the face of the sun – could be your last chance to see one occur for decades to come.

Such an event is expected to cross over Mexico, the U.S. and Canada on April 8, 2024. And according to NASA, that will be the last total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous U.S. until August 2044.

During a total solar eclipse, the moon passes between the sun and Earth, blocking the sun's light and darkening the sky as if it were early in the morning or late in the evening. The last time this type of eclipse event took place over the U.S. was in August 2017, when people were able to see the event across the entire continent for the first time in nearly 100 years.

Total solar eclipses happen every one to three years, but the events are usually only visible from Earth's poles or from the middle of the ocean.

While next year's eclipse won't be visible from coast-to-coast, the path of totality does go across a dozen states, including Texas, Arkansas, New York and Pennsylvania. Totality will start over the South Pacific Ocean before crossing over Mexico, into the U.S. and ending after crossing Canada's Newfoundland and Labrador. States not in the path of totality will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse.

The first spot in North America expected to witness totality is Mexico's Pacific coast at around 11:07 a.m. PDT, according to NASA. While the eclipse will last a couple of hours, totality will last just about four minutes. It's only during these few minutes that it's safe for people to remove their special eclipse glasses.

What to expect

The long-awaited moment of a total solar eclipse – totality – makes up just minutes of an hours-long process, and aside from that moment, it's crucial for people to wear special eclipse glasses so as to not hurt their eyes.

The event will begin with what's called the partial stage, when the moon has not yet fully covered the sun, giving the giant star a crescent shape. This can last between 70 and 80 minutes in most places. As the moon closes in on totality, "Baily's Beads" will appear – small light rays from the sun that quickly paper along the moon's horizon. Then, right before totality, the beads will disappear, leaving only a single bright spot referred to as the "diamond ring."

That's when the moment finally comes – the sky is dark and the sun appears like a glowing black orb.

"During totality, take a few seconds to observe the world around you. You may be able to see a 360 degree sunset. You may also be able to see some particularly bright stars or planets in the darkened sky," NASA says. "The air temperature will drop and often an eerie silence will settle around you. It is also worth stealing a peek at the people around you – many people have a deep emotional response when the Sun goes into totality."

After just a couple of moments, the process that led up to totality will repeat in reverse, and the eclipse will come to an end.

Upcoming celestial events

Even though the total solar eclipse is still over a year away, it's not the only opportunity to see a celestial event from right outside your home. The annular solar eclipse will cross North, Central and South America on Oct. 14 this year, which will be the last time this kind of eclipse will be visible from the continental U.S. until 2039, NASA said.

And if you're craving a bit of space before the fall, you only have to wait a few weeks.

A bright green comet known as C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is set to make its first and likely only appearance to human eyes. The comet, which is believed to have traveled billions of miles through space, is expected to make its closest approach to the sun on January 12 and its closest approach to Earth on February 2, at which time people may be able to catch a glimpse of the comet with just their binoculars – and if they're really lucky, with the naked eye.