2024 is shaping up to be an incredible year for skywatchers, packed with rare and dazzling cosmic displays. From a total solar eclipse crossing North America to potential bright comets to the best meteor showers, there will be plenty of reasons to gaze up at the heavens over the next twelve months.
Total Solar Eclipse Crosses North America in April
On April 8, 2024, one of the most spectacular celestial events will unfold as a total solar eclipse cuts a path across North America from Mexico to New England and eastern Canada.
During a solar eclipse, the Moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun, blocking out sunlight. In the path of totality, the Moon will completely cover the Sun for over 4 minutes, revealing the Sun’s ethereal outer atmosphere and transforming day briefly into an eerie twilight.
This will be the first total solar eclipse visible from North America since the Great American Eclipse of August 2017, which captured the world’s attention as it moved coast-to-coast across the continental United States.
While April’s eclipse path is different, cutting diagonally rather than horizontally, it will offer stunning views for tens of millions of people in some of North America’s biggest metropolitan areas like Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax.
|Mexico City, Mexico
|Halifax, Nova Scotia
The eclipse promises to be a major spectacle, with hotels and vacation rentals already booked solid in prime viewing locations more than a year in advance. Highway officials are even planning ahead for massive traffic jams like those that occurred in 2017.
For locations outside the path, a partial solar eclipse will still be visible by looking towards the path of totality, depending on how much of the sun is covered. And everyone in North and Central America, Europe, Africa, and western Asia will see at least a partial eclipse as the moon takes a bite out of the sun during this truly global event.
Potential Dazzling Comets
On top of April’s marquee total solar eclipse, 2024 may feature some bright and beautiful comet sightings.
Comet ZTF, discovered in 2021 by astronomers at Caltech, will make its closest approach to the sun in January 2024, swooping just inside the orbit of Mercury. While its brightness is still uncertain, some predictions suggest it could offer views rivaling the most spectacular comets in history with binoculars or a small telescope.
Another comet called Comet SOHO, persistently observed for decades by a solar-studying satellite, may also brighten dramatically when it loops around the sun in late 2023 and early 2024. If predictions hold true, it would become visible to the naked eye under very dark skies around New Years 2024.
And Comet 96P Machholz, a short-period comet that swings by the inner solar system every 5-6 years, is also due to return in late 2023. It has produced a few modest naked eye apparitions in past trips, so skywatchers are hoping it may do so again.
While their exact brightness is nearly impossible to predict this far in advance, there is real potential for one or more brilliant comets gracing the night skies in 2024 for patient observers with binoculars or telescopes.
Exceptional Meteor Showers
In addition to potential comet outbursts, 2024 features two of the most reliable and prolific annual meteor showers under ideal viewing circumstances.
The Perseid meteor shower peaks on the night of August 12-13, 2024, just days after the New Moon. With no moonlight to wash them out, the Perseids typically deliver up to 100 meteors per hour under dark rural skies. Fast and bright, Perseids leave long glowing trails across the summer sky.
Later, the prolific Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of December 13-14, 2024, just two days after the New Moon. The Geminids can deliver over 150 meteors per hour at their peak, considered by many the best shower of the year.
With moonless, dark skies, 2024 presents prime viewing opportunities for these two major meteor displays that are not to be missed.
Triple Supermoons Start the Year
The New Year kicks off in 2024 with a trio of Supermoons – when the full moon coincides closely with the moon’s perigee, its closest orbital approach to Earth.
On January 13, February 11, and March 11, the full moon of these months will appear around 7% larger and 15% brighter than a typical full moon. While subtle to the naked eye, these Supermoons can still make for eye-catching photo opportunities or nice backdrops to wintertime lunar observing.
Eclipses Round Out 2024
The celestial events keep coming late into 2024, as October features both a partial solar eclipse and a total lunar eclipse two weeks apart.
On October 2, much of Europe, northeast Africa, the Middle East and western parts of Asia will see the moon pass in front of a portion of the sun for a few hours, partially blocking its light. The partial solar eclipse will see, at most, nearly 80 percent of the sun covered from southern Spain.
Then on October 16-17, North and South America are treated to a total lunar eclipse, where the full “Blood Moon” passes through the Earth’s dark central shadow for up to an hour and a half. The entire event lasts for nearly six hours as the shadow gradually covers and then uncovers the moon in a dark red hue.
Prime Viewing Opportunities Across Much of North America & Europe
Many of 2024’s spectacular astronomy highlights, like April’s total solar eclipse, the peak meteor shower nights, and October’s lunar eclipse will be visible across large swaths of North America under clear weather conditions.
The partial solar eclipse in October favors Europe, north Africa, and western Asia under European early evening skies.
Public astronomy groups, science museums, and parks organizations across these regions are already gearing up for big crowds and planning community celestial viewing events to showcase 2024’s dream lineup perfect for binoculars or telescopes.
Dedicated skywatchers planning photography, travel to the total eclipse path, or other ambitious observations are encouraged to plan ahead for busy skies and high demand on lodging and equipment during these signature events.
Back-to-Back Stellar Years
Coming just a year after 2023’s impressive eclipse and comet lineup, experts consider the rare concentration of dazzling daylight and nighttime cosmic displays in 2023 and 2024 the most remarkable in decades for recreational astronomy fans and astrophotographers.
The highly-anticipated effects across popular culture, tourism, and skywatching communities resemble the lead-ups to eclipses in 1979, 1991/1993, or 2017 on even grander scales.
2024 wraps up the major phenomena, though comet developments mean stellar surprises could keep coming years down the road. With millions inspired to appreciate the skies after recent events, however, amateur astronomy continues broadening its appeal across families and students worldwide.
As world light pollution maps also gradually improve in precision, locating ideal dark sites to fully experience such awe-inspiring phenomena grows easier to instill that profound connection between humanity and the cosmos for old and new generations alike even amidst bright city living.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.