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Some spectacular celestial events in 2024

by RANDY MANN
| January 29, 2024 1:07 AM

This year will offer U.S. skywatchers a variety of dazzling celestial events from meteor showers, a comet fly-by and the long-anticipated solar eclipse across parts of the U.S. On April 8, the solar eclipse will pass over Mexico, then across the south-central, midwestern and northeastern part of the U.S. before concluding its North American trek over parts of Quebec and Nova Scotia, Canada.

Some of the regions to experience the total eclipse include Dallas, southeastern Oklahoma, northwestern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, southern Illinois, central and southern Indiana, northwestern Ohio, northern New York, northern Vermont, northern New Hampshire and northern Maine.

The event will last a little more than 4 minutes in Texas, but around 2-3 minutes in Canada. Solar eclipses do vary in time because the Earth is not always at the same distance from the sun and the moon’s distance from the Earth will vary by as much as 12%.

In what is considered to be a rare event for this eclipse to be viewed across the U.S., many folks are “gearing up” and, in some cases, planning to travel thousands of miles to witness this phenomenon. Unfortunately, the path of totality of this eclipse will not be over North Idaho as less than 40% of the sun will be covered by the moon. A good friend of mine, Tom, planned a two-day trip to fly to Dallas just to view the eclipse. For those who would like to see this incredible phenomenon, it is expected to be livestreamed for safe viewing.

The last time there was a total eclipse in the U.S. was during the morning of Aug. 21, 2017. I had some good friends who lived in Corvallis, Ore., and I was able to see the event in their backyard. The region was packed with observers, and many are predicting similar crowds for the next eclipse in April.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. When they are positioned perfectly in a direct line, the moon blocks the sun and literally turns day into night for a matter of minutes. Solar eclipses are considered to be rare events and are usually visible from small areas on Earth. During this event, the moon casts two shadows on our planet. What many will see in April is called the umbra, which is the darkest portion of the moon’s shadow and region of totality. The other is called penumbra, which others will see as a partial solar eclipse.

It’s quite amazing that at this moment in Earth’s history, the sun’s diameter is about 400 times larger than that of the moon. The sun is also approximately 400 times farther away, making it look like the moon and sun are the same size when seen from Earth. Also, the moon is pulling away from the Earth about an inch to an inch-and-a-half per year. Therefore, scientists project that we won’t get spectacular views of solar eclipses in about 600,000 years as the moon will be farther away from our planet.

Another interesting celestial event is expected to occur from Oct. 12 to 19. During that time, a comet known as Tsuchinshan-ATLAS, or A3, will be passing close to the Earth and the sun. It was first discovered by the Purple Mountain Observatory in China in January 2023.

Some astronomers believe there is a chance the comet will be visible to the naked eye. Back in 1996, Comet Hyakutake passed close to our planet When I was living in Vermont during that time, I did see the spectacular event and the comet’s tail was visible. Although we could see something similar in October, the brightness of comets is difficult to predict.

In addition to the solar eclipse and the upcoming comet, there are plenty of meteor showers coming in 2024. There is the Lyrids meteor shower from April 16 to 25, and this one has about 10 to 15 meteors per hour. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower from April 15 to May 27, which is best seen in the southern hemisphere. One of the most well-known events is the Perseid meteor shower from Aug. 11 to 13. During the best conditions, especially away from city lights, according to NASA, viewers can see approximately 50 to 100 shooting stars per hour. There is also the Orionid meteor shower from Sept. 26 to Nov. 22 and the Geminid meteor shower from Dec. 4 through 17.

In terms of our local weather, as we move into February, we’ll still have occasional rain and snow shower activity. However, much of the moisture over the next week to 10 days is expected across areas to our south, including California and the southern portions of the country. Our next best chance of snowfall this month is around the new moon cycle of Feb. 9 and the full moon lunar phase at the end of the month.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com.