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The 2024 Solar Eclipse

An important phenomenon
Diagram depicting all the solar eclipses, depicting thousands of solar eclipses. (NASA)
Pictured on the left is an annular solar eclipse, in the middle is a total solar eclipse, and pictured on the right is a partial solar eclipse
The path of totality for the 2024 solar eclipse. (NASA)

The phenomenon that captured the attention of millions, the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, marked a significant event in astronomical and U.S. history. Not witnessed in its totality across the United States since 2017, this rare occurrence had many eagerly waiting for its arrival.

Unlike the previous solar eclipse, the 2024 event promised a total eclipse, which is a rare event to be seen by so many people. This prompted preparations in various states along its path of totality. From Texas to Indiana, concerns over tourist booms relating to the eclipse led to states declaring states of emergency in 7 different states.

Despite what many think, witnessing a total solar eclipse is very rare and requires a perfect alignment of the Earth, moon, and sun. With the moon positioned precisely between the sun and the Earth, the alignment must occur during a specific phase of the moon’s orbit known as a synodic month, repeating every 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.9 seconds. This means that once roughly every month, there is a possibility of seeing an eclipse.

However, the perfect alignment alone does not guarantee an eclipse. The Earth’s tilted orbit introduces further complexity, because of the tilted earth the moon’s rotational path is also at a tilt requiring the moon to be in just the right place to its orbital plane known as the lunar nodes. These nodes, shifting slowly over time as the rotation around the Earth slowly changes. These lunar nodes align with the sun and Earth approximately every 173.3 days, creating opportunities for eclipses.

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Illustrating this is the Saros-Inex Panorama, showcasing over 61,775 solar eclipses spanning several millennia both future and past. Notably, the chart highlights the rarity of total eclipses. Even more rare is the total solar eclipses that happen over the United States.

Despite the moon’s consistent size, its elliptical orbit and the shifting lunar nodes result in varying distances from Earth, influencing the type and visibility of eclipses. One lunar node is further away from the Earth than the other resulting in the two different types of eclipses, annular and total.

With all the hype and anticipation, many people started warning against possible dangers such as Bill Nye advocating for people to wear eclipse glasses so as to not harm their vision. During the last solar eclipse, Donald Trump looked directly at the eclipse and memes about that started popping up everywhere as we witnessed another event. 

Even for those outside the path of totality, like students at UMA, the eclipse provided a cool event to witness, conveniently during high school lunch.


Sources: NASA, Saros-Inex Panorama, Fox News

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