Preparing for the Great American Solar Eclipse

April 19, 2024 // Article by: Shawn McGarrity

A total solar eclipse hasn't traversed the Eastern and Central United States since August 21, 2017. Even though it's only been seven years since the last one could be seen in the Eastern U.S., an event like this is quite rare and it won't happen again across the lower 48 until August 23, 2044. If you're in Alaska, don't worry! You have an even earlier chance at seeing the next one when the path of totality spans across northern portions of the state on March 30th, 2033. 

Given how rare of a total solar eclipse this is, especially in our own backyard, we must remember that there are some safety concerns when it coms to vieing it. Preparing ahead of time will get you ready for this possibly once-in-a-lifetime event. And we'll go into detail on how you can do that here!

When and Where is the Eclipse?

First, when do they occur? Well, solar eclipses happen about once a year at some point on the Earth. Having the perfect conditions pass close to population center, however is much less common given how a majority of the planet's surface is made of water. With that in mind, not all solar eclipses are treated equal. Some eclipses are merely "partial", in the sense that only part of the Moon obscures the Sun. An "annular" solar eclipse is a bit less common and occurs when the Moon passes in front of the Sun, however the Moon is near its furthest point in orbit. This means that the shadow does not perfectly block out the Sun. 

The April 8th, 2024 solar eclipse is part of a rarer kind: a total solar eclipse. Unlike annular eclipses, these occur when the perfect conditions fall into place, where the Moon is at the right position in its' orbit around the Earth to align perfectly with the size of the Sun. Meaning, total blockage! 

Path of Totality

The path of totality in a solar eclipse is the narrow path across the Earth's surface upon which the Moon's shadow crosses. It's also all the points where totality of the sun being blocked out can be seen. Anywhere outside of this path and you will only see a partial obscuring of the Sun, with the percent covered decreasing the further out from the path you go. 

Below is a map of the Path of Totality for the April 8th eclipse; Note how the Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo/Rochester, and Burlington metropolitan areas are fortunate enough to fall within the path. With this in mind, the totality itself only lasts several minutes, roughly occurring between 3:05 and 3:30 PM ET for those from the Ohio River Valley up to Lake Champlain. 

2024 Solar Eclipse, Path of Totality. Courtesy of NASA

Preparations and Safety

Now that you have your destination set for where you want to view the solar eclipse, there are a few more things you need to prepare for in order to safely observe this spectacular event. 

The main thing to focus on will be eye protection. Just as you wouldn't want to look directly at the Sun on any other day of the year, the same goes during a solar eclipse, at least not without the proper protection first. 

In order to view a solar eclipse safely, you MUST look through special "eclipse glasses" or handheld solar viewer at all times (Note: eclipse glasses are not the same as sunglasses, so do NOT attempt to view the eclipse using typical sunglasses). To make sure you are taking the proper precautions here, solar viewers are equipped for the job as they are thousands of times darker than sunglasses and block much more of the harmful light. While NASA does not approve of any particular brand of solar viewers, your viewing device must comply with the ISO 12312-2 international standard. Before using a pair of special eclipse glasses, be sure to check for any tears or damage that can compromise the effectiveness. 

Additionally, even while wearing your solar viewers, do NOT look at the Sun through any telescopes, binoculars, or any other optical devices, for these will focus solar rays and will burn through the filter on solar viewers. 

Solar Eclipse Glasses. Courtesy of Shutterstock

When to Wear Eye Safety?

The use of solar viewers is vital to safely observing the solar eclipse without damaging your eyes. However, there is only one point in a solar eclipse where you can take off your viewers; during totality (i.e., when the Moon fully obscures the Sun's face). This moment is brief, only lasting several minutes and will only occur within the path of totality that we mentioned above. Once a little bit of light begins to reappear as the Moon continues onward, immediately put your solar viewers back on. 

If you are NOT in the path of totality and only have a degree of obscurity (even 99% is not fully enough), solar viewers must be worn at all times. 

Additional Safety Considerations

In addition to eye protection, which is by far the most important preparation needed to view a solar eclipse, there are other miscellaneous preparations to consider before you get ready. 



Solar eclipses are an awe-inspiring phenomenon that are worth putting the effort in to see. After taking the proper precautions mentioned above, enjoy the thrill of this possibly once-in-a-lifetime event!


“Eclipse Safety.” NASA, NASA, Accessed 28 Mar. 2024.