The partial eclipse looks as if a bite has been taken out of the Sun. The annular looks like an orange ring around the blackened Moon. The total looks like wisps of white around the blackened Moon.

Get ready for the April 8 total solar eclipse. Learn about the science behind solar eclipses, how to watch safely, and how to engage students in NASA science.

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will be visible across much of the central and northeastern United States, as well as parts of Mexico and Canada.

Whether you are traveling to the path of the total eclipse or will be able to step outside and watch the eclipse where you live, here's everything you need to know, including what to expect, how to watch safely, and how to engage in scientific observations and discovery with NASA.

What Are Solar Eclipses?

Solar eclipses occur when the Sun, the Moon, and Earth align. For this alignment to happen, two things need to be true. First, the Moon needs to be in the new moon phase, which is when the Moon’s orbit brings it between Earth and the Sun. Second, eclipses can only happen during eclipse seasons, which last about 34 days and occur just shy of every six months. An eclipse season is the time period when the Sun, the Moon, and Earth can line up on the same plane as Earth's orbit during a new or full moon. If a new moon happens during an eclipse season, the shadow cast by the Moon will land on Earth, resulting in a solar eclipse. Most of the time, because the Moon’s orbit is slightly tilted, the Moon’s shadow falls above or below Earth, and we don't get a solar eclipse.

Not all solar eclipses look the same. The distance between the Sun, the Moon, and Earth plays an important role in what we see during a solar eclipse. Even though the Moon is much smaller than the Sun (about 400 times smaller in diameter), the Sun and Moon look about the same size from Earth. This is because the Sun is about 400 times farther away than the Moon. But as the Moon travels its elliptical orbit around Earth, its size appears slightly larger when it is closer to Earth and slightly smaller when it is farther from Earth. This contributes to the different kinds of solar eclipses you might have heard about. For example:

  • During a total solar eclipse, the Moon is closer to Earth in its orbit and appears larger, completely blocking the Sun's disk. This allows viewers in the path of totality to see the Sun’s corona, which is usually obscured by the bright light of the Sun’s surface.
  • Whisps of white haze flare out around the blackened disk of the Moon, which completely covers the Sun's disk

    This image of a total solar eclipse was captured on Aug. 21, 2017 from Madras, Oregon. Image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani | › Full image and caption

  • An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are properly aligned, but the Moon is farther away in its orbit, so it does not completely cover the Sun's disk from our perspective. Annular eclipses are notable for the "ring of fire," a thin ring of the Sun’s disk that's still visible around the Moon during annularity. The name annular eclipse comes from the world of mathematics, where a ring shape is known as an annulus.
  • The bubbling surface of the Sun's disk and the surrounding haze of orange and yellow light can be seen as a ring around the blackened disk of the Moon.

    On Jan. 4, 2017, the Hinode satellite captured these breathtaking images of an annular solar eclipse. Image credit: Hinode/XRT | › Full image and caption

  • Partial eclipses can happen for two reasons. First, viewers outside the path of totality during a total solar eclipse – or the path of annularity during an annular eclipse – will see only part of the Sun’s surface covered by the Moon. The other time a partial eclipse can occur is when the Moon is nearly above or below Earth in its orbit so only part of the Moon’s shadow falls on Earth. In this case, only part of the Sun’s surface will appear covered by the Moon.
  • The Sun appears to have a small bite taken out of the top of its yellow-orange disk. The bite grows in size in this sequence of three images.

    The Sun appears partially eclipsed in this series of photos taken from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston on Aug. 21, 2017. Image credit: NASA/Noah Moran | › Full image and caption

How to Watch the Upcoming Solar Eclipse

First, an important safety note: Do not look directly at the Sun or view any part of the partial solar eclipse without certified eclipse glasses or a solar filter. Read more below about when you can safely view the total solar eclipse without eclipse glasses or a solar filter. Visit the NASA Eclipse website for more information on safe eclipse viewing.

When following proper safety guidelines, witnessing an eclipse is an unparalleled experience. Many “eclipse chasers” have been known to travel the world to see solar eclipses. Here's what to expect on April 8, 2024:

The start time and visibility of the eclipse will depend on your location. You can use the interactive map below to find detailed eclipse information, including timing and coverage, by entering in your location. A list of some of the cities and start times along the path of totality is available on the NASA Science website.

Explore when and where to view the eclipse with this interactive map from NASA. Enter your zip code to see what will be visible in your viewing location and when to watch. Credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio

The eclipse begins when the edge of the Moon first crosses in front of the disk of the Sun. This is called a partial eclipse and might look as if a bite has been taken out of the Sun.

It is important to keep your eclipse glasses on during all parts of the partial solar eclipse. The visible part of the Sun is tens of thousands of times brighter than what you see during totality. You can also use a pinhole camera to view the eclipse.

An approximately 115-mile-wide strip known as the path of totality is where the shadow of the Moon, or umbra, will fall on Earth. Inside this path, totality will be visible starting about 65 to 75 minutes after the eclipse begins.

If you are in the path of totality, it is safe to take off your eclipse glasses and look at the total eclipse only during totality. Be sure to put your glasses back on before the total phase ends and the surface of the Sun becomes visible again. Your viewing location during the eclipse will determine how long you can see the eclipse in totality. In the U.S., viewers can expect to see 3.5 to 5.5 minutes of totality.

After totality ends, a partial eclipse will continue for 60 to 80 minutes, ending when the edge of the Moon moves off of the disk of the Sun.

For more information about the start of the partial eclipse, the start and duration of totality, and the percentage of the Sun eclipsed outside the path of totality, find your location on this eclipse map.

On April 8, NASA Television will host a live broadcast featuring expert commentary and views from telescopes along the path of totality. Tune into the broadcast from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. PDT (1 to 4 p.m. EDT) on the day of the eclipse.

Join NASA as a total solar eclipse moves across North America on April 8. Tune in from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. PDT (1 to 4 p.m. EDT) for live views from across the path, expert commentary, live demos, and more. | Watch on YouTube

What Solar Eclipses Mean for Science

Solar eclipses provide a unique opportunity for scientists to study the Sun and Earth from land, air, and space, plus allow the public to engage in citizen science!

A solid red circle with a smaller white-outlined circle inside it is centered over the disk of the Sun. Streams of yellow, red, and orange shoot out from the Sun, all around the solid circle, while a large solar flare bursts out of the upper left portion of the circle. A time stamp in the corner reads 2000/02/27.

NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, constantly observes the outer regions of the Sun’s corona using a coronagraph. Image credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO | + Expand image

Scientists measure incoming solar radiation, also known as insolation, to better understand Earth’s radiation budget – the energy emitted, reflected, and absorbed by our planet. Just as clouds block sunlight and reduce insolation, eclipses create a similar phenomenon, providing a great opportunity to study how increased cloud cover can impact weather and climate.

Solar eclipses can also help scientists study solar radiation in general and the structure of the Sun. On a typical day, the bright surface of the Sun, called the photosphere, is the only part of the Sun we can see. During a total solar eclipse, the photosphere is completely blocked by the Moon, leaving the outer atmosphere of the Sun (corona) and the thin lower atmosphere (chromosphere) visible. Studying these regions of the Sun’s atmosphere can help scientists understand solar radiation, why the corona is hotter than the photosphere, and the process by which the Sun sends a steady stream of material and radiation into space. Annular solar eclipses provide opportunities for scientists to practice their observation methods so that they'll be ready when a total solar eclipse comes around.

Citizen scientists can get involved in collecting data and participating in the scientific process during the eclipse through NASA’s GLOBE program. Anyone in the path of the eclipse and in partial eclipse areas can act as citizen scientists by measuring temperature and cloud cover data and report it using the GLOBE Observer app to help further the study of how eclipses affect Earth’s atmosphere.

Visit NASA's Eclipse Science page to learn more about the many ways scientists are using the eclipse to improve their understanding of Earth, the Moon, and the Sun.

Taking Eclipse Science Farther

Eclipses also make a great jumping-off point to concepts and techniques used in astrophysics and our search for planets beyond our solar system.

Similar to a solar eclipse, a transit occurs when a planet crosses in front of the face of a star. From Earth, the planets Venus and Mercury can occasionally be seen transiting in front of the Sun, appearing as small, dark dots. Transits are also useful for detecting exoplanets – distant planets around other stars. When an exoplanet passes in between its star and Earth, we can measure tiny dips in the star's brightness that tell scientists a planet is there even when it’s too small to see.

Another way that eclipse concepts are used for astrophysics is with coronagraphs, mechanisms inside telescopes that block the light from a star. By creating a sort of artificial eclipse, coronagraphs help scientists search for exoplanets by making much dimmer planets orbiting a star easier to see. For example, NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Telescope, slated for launch later this decade, will use an advanced coronagraph to analyze and directly image planets that orbit other stars. Learn more about the astrophysics involved in eclipses, including the use of gravitational lensing to study background objects, from NASA’s Universe of Learning.

Learn how the coronagraph instrument on the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope will allow the spacecraft to peer at the universe through some of the most sophisticated sunglasses ever designed. | Watch on YouTube

Solar Eclipse Lessons and Projects

Use these standards-aligned lessons, plus related activities and resources, to get your students excited about the eclipse and the science that will be conducted during the eclipse.

Explore More

Eclipse Info

Eclipse Safety


Citizen Science

Facts & Figures

NASA's Universe of Learning materials are based upon work supported by NASA under award number NNX16AC65A to the Space Telescope Science Institute, working in partnership with Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

TAGS: Solar Eclipse, Eclipse, Annular Eclipse, K-12 Education, Lessons, Classroom Resources, STEM Resources

  • Lyle Tavernier