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Plan for the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Are you in the path of totality for the April 2024 solar eclipse? What will you and your students see? What related science projects can students do to learn more?

Map showing path of 2024 solar eclipse, NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio
Image: A view of the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse from Madras, Oregon. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Solar Eclipse Science for Students

What happens when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun? A solar eclipse!

During a solar eclipse, the Moon blocks some or all of the Sun and casts a shadow on the Earth.

The Sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon, and it is about 400 times farther away. Given these differences, it is incredible that they line up just right now and then to cause a total eclipse. The video below from NASA offers a basic explanation and highlights the difference between an annular (or partial) and total solar eclipse:

Depending on where you are located, the Moon passing in front of the Sun may block your view of part of the Sun. During a total solar eclipse, if you are in the path of totality, the Moon will completely block the Sun, causing it to appear dark (like dusk) for a few minutes. During this time, the Sun's corona (its outer atmosphere) will be visible as a bright ring around the darkened Sun. (Fun fact! Just before and after the point of totality, the visible edge of the Sun, combined with the brightness of the corona, may appear to look like a "diamond ring" of light.)

For many people, witnessing a total solar eclipse may only happen once or twice in a lifetime!

2024 Total Solar Eclipse

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible to many viewers in North America. The map below from NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio shows the path of the upcoming eclipse.

Map showing path of 2024 solar eclipse, NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

In the US, the path of totality (estimated to be between 108 and 122 miles wide) includes these states: Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. (If you are not in the path of totality, you may still experience a partial solar eclipse.)

How to View a Solar Eclipse

Safe viewing during the eclipse is a must! The few minutes when the Moon completely blocks the Sun is the only time you can safely look directly at the Sun.

Never look directly at the Sun without glasses (or a viewer) made specifically for that purpose.

Special solar viewing glasses are available for watching the eclipse. Making sure that the solar glasses (or viewers) you use are safe is very important. Solar glasses need to meet the ISO 12312-2 Standard for Solar Viewers. Make sure you purchase from a reputable source. See How Can You Tell If Your Eclipse Glasses or Handheld Solar Viewers Are Safe? for more information.

For additional information about safe viewing, see these guidelines from NASA.

Indirect Viewing with a Pinhole Projector

A pinhole projector (or pinhole camera) offers a simple way to indirectly observe the solar eclipse. This is a popular DIY STEM activity for viewing an eclipse without directly looking at the Sun. With a pinhole projector made from ordinary cardboard and paper, students can see the shadow of the eclipse cast on the paper. The video below provides an overview of how a pinhole projector works. (This same simple setup can also be used for a science project to measure the diameter of the Sun or Moon!)

The video below from NASA shows another way to build a pinhole projector using a cereal box. See also, How to Make a Pinhole Camera from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

A pinhole projector (or pinhole camera) can be a fun way to talk about the eclipse or other experiments with light and shadow.

(Remember: a pinhole projector does not allow you to look directly at the Sun. This is an indirect viewing method.)

Related Science Projects

Before or after the eclipse, students may be interested in related astronomy projects like these:

The following related lesson plans and resource collections are available for educators:

Other Resources

The next time a total solar eclipse will be visible in the US will be August 23, 2044.

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