Science

Why To Use Thanksgiving To Discuss April’s Total Solar Eclipse

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This Thanksgiving, don’t talk turkey—talk totality! A total solar eclipse is coming to parts of 15 U.S. states, as well as to Canada and Mexico, on Monday, April 8, and it’s time to make plans for you, your friends and your family.

On that day of days, millions of people could savor one of nature’s most incredible experiences—but only those who act now. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to get plans in place, so much so that some organizers of the eclipse have come up with some Thanksgiving table talking points.

Thanksgiving Table Talking Points

“This list is important whether you’re staying home for Thanksgiving or traveling outside the area,” said Debra Ross, Co-Chair at both the national AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force and Rochester Eclipse 2024, in an interview. “If you live in the path of totality your guests will want to come back for the eclipse, and those you’re visiting will want to come for the eclipse.”

Get To The Path

Everyone should now be talking about, and planning for, being in the path of totality on April 8. Although all of North America will see a partial solar eclipse that day through eclipse glasses, that’s a sideshow. The main event—darkness in the day and a chance to see the sun’s spiky corona with naked eyes—can only be experienced from within the path of totality, a “stripe” across the planet about 125 miles (200km) wide.

That path will cross parts of 15 U.S. states and countless cities such as Mazatlan in Mexico, Dallas, Indianpolis, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Montreal in Canada. The U.S. states crossed by the path of totality comprise Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

Natural Wonder

Only within the path will you feel the temperature drop, see the silvery light on people’s faces and listen to the sounds of pure joy all around you as the corona appears above around a hole in the sky. “A total solar eclipse is one of the world’s natural wonders, and you don’t need to be into astronomy to appreciate it any more than you need to be a geologist to marvel at the Grand Canyon,” said Jenna Hinds, Outreach Coordinator at The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, in an interview.

“Totality brings feelings of joy, peace and awe,” said Dr. Tyler Nordgren, an Ithaca, New York-based astronomer and eclipse artist whose work is now being exhibited around the Rochester region. “Don’t let anything get in the way of that.”

This eclipse is for everyone to enjoy—which is why planning in advance is so important.

Arrive Early, Stay Late

Anyone who visited the path of totality on August 21, 2017—the last time a total solar eclipse came to the U.S.—will remember the terrible traffic afterward. Organizers are keen to avoid that in April—cue the hastags #TakeTuesdayToo and #ArriveEarlyAndStayLate—to get eclipse-chasers to take their time.

Many may have a false sense of what can happen at an eclipse. “There was an almost completely clear sky along the path of totality, so you didn’t have people trying to reposition at the last minute,” said Nordgren. The relative remoteness of that path of totality over the likes of Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada also meant that folks who drove into the path did so during a trip of several days, so while the traffic was bad afterward, roads were clear beforehand.

Beware ‘Totality Traffic’

This time, it could be very different. “What’s going to happen this time if clouds are an issue, and everyone tries to reposition at the last minute?” said Nordgren. “It could be the holiday traffic to beat all holiday traffic.” His advice is simple: “Unless there are clear skies just half an hour away, I would stay put—I wouldn’t try to drive hours away at the last minute.”

The likelihood of clouds along the path of totality in the U.S. and Canada is about 50%, but virtually the same across the country, so don’t let worries about weather delay you in making a plan. “If you’re going to see an eclipse, travel someplace you want to go anyway,” said Nordgren. “If it’s clear during totality, then your trip is even better, but if it’s cloudy, then, hey, you got to go someplace you wanted to go.”

In any case, a total solar eclipse under a cloudy sky is still a profound experience. For starters, it gets much darker. It’s not ideal—there’s no “hole in the sky” moment—but it’s still a powerful moment.

‘MeClipse’ vs. ‘WeClipse’

Making a plan for the eclipse requires everyone’s input. “You need to plan for the diverse interests of the people in your house and friends who may be traveling to see you, if you live in the path,” said Ross, who thinks splinter groups will likely form in any given large group of diverse people who want to get together for the eclipse.

A key division is the different environments that people want to experience totality. “Now is the time to decide whether you want a MeClipse or a WeClipse,” said Ross. “Families will be divided into people who want to experience totality in a crowded place with others and those who want to be alone,” she said, adding that she and her daughter experienced totality in 2017 in a tiny town in Missouri.

Eclipse Experiences

Organizers are trying to cater for every conceivable interest. “There will be an incredible array of experiences around the eclipse,” said Ross. “That’s how we’ve designed this from the beginning.” In the Rochester area, confirmed eclipse activities cover music, comedy, nature, history and science. For example, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra will premier a new piece of music the night before the eclipse, the Rochester Museum & Science Center will stage ROC The Eclipse and Genesee Country Village & Museum will have a three-day eclipse event where guests can stay in a 19th century home.

It’s a similar story across the path. Texas has dozens of camping music festivals, such as KerrEclipse and Ground Zero, while in Illinois the Ryder Family Farm will be hosting a four-course Farm Dinner while a few miles away, the Southern Illinois Crossroads Eclipse Festival will take place in Saluki Stadium. That’s just a tiny sample of the thousands of eclipse-related events being planned for April 8 and the days either side.

Make A Plan Now

So forget the weather, take some time off work and customize a plan to experience totality together—and make it now. The most wondrous thing about totality is not how long it lasts or where you witness it from, but that it happens at all. For the upcoming chance to experience it, North Americans should be truly thankful.

I’m an expert on eclipses—the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and author of The Complete Guide To The Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024. For the latest on April 8, 2024’s total solar eclipse—including travel and lodging options—check my main feed for new articles.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.

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