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A total solar eclipse is happening today. What to know and how to see it

An eclipse on April 8 will cut across a large swath of the U.S.

Time to dig through the junk drawer to find those special eclipse glasses, as a rare total solar eclipse will cross North America today to darken the afternoon sky.

There are two or more solar eclipses across the world every year, but ones like this that can be widely viewed across the country don't happen often (the next eclipse of its kind won't occur in the U.S. for another 20 years).

Here's what to know before this afternoon, when the moon will almost completely cover the sun to the delight of sky watchers around North America.

What time will the solar eclipse happen?

On April 8, the eclipse will be seen in a large swath that includes part of Mexico, 15 states in the U.S. and a part of eastern Canada.

The event will start a little after 12 p.m. Central Time in areas of Texas and after 2 p.m. Eastern Time in Pennsylvania, New York and parts of New England.

Where will it be visible?

After beginning in the South Pacific Ocean and the Pacific coast of Mexico, the total solar eclipse will cut a 115-mile-wide path across 15 U.S. states.

The eclipse can be viewed in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, plus small parts of Tennessee and Michigan, according to NASA.

The celestial event will begin in the U.S. around noon Central Time, which includes starting at 12:23 CT in Dallas. The totality of the moon covering the sun doesn’t happen in Dallas until 1:40 p.m. CT, according to NASA.

It will begin at 2:02 p.m. Eastern Time in Erie, Pennsylvania, and 2:04 p.m. ET in Buffalo, New York, according to NASA.

NASA has a list of 13 cities spanning from Oklahoma to Maine and the local times when the eclipse is expected to begin.

The list also includes the times for when the full eclipse will occur and when it will end. The full eclipse, where the moon completely covers the sun, only lasts for about two to five minutes depending on where it's being viewed.

How wide is the path of totality?

NASA has an interactive map showing where the moon's shadow will cross the country on April 8.

You can click on it to zoom in on whether your local area will be on the outer edges of the eclipse, right in the middle, or out of the path entirely.

2024 Solar Eclipse
The moon covers the sun in a solar eclipse.Getty Images

There are ovals on the map inside the path of the eclipse that contain local times of when the eclipse will occur. The map was compiled using data from NASA missions and satellites, according to the agency.

What is a total solar eclipse and how do you safely view an eclipse?

In a total solar eclipse, the moon fully obscures the sun as it passes in front of it, temporarily blocking its light.

People should avoid looking directly into the sun during a solar eclipse and should wear eclipse glasses or look through a pinhole projector, according to NASA.

The only safe time to view it without glasses is the few minutes where the moon has totally obscured the sun.

Friends watching solar eclipse
Looking directly at the eclipse requires wearing special glasses to avoid eye damage.Leo Patrizi / Getty Images

Standard sunglasses do not offer enough protection, so people need to wear the special solar viewing glasses that are thousands of times darker. NASA also suggests that any eclipse glasses that are torn or scratched should also be discarded for new ones.

Yet another major no-no: Don't look at the sun through a camera lens, telescope, or binoculars while wearing eclipse glasses or using a handheld solar viewer because the concentrated solar rays will burn through the filter and cause serious eye injury, per NASA.

The eclipse glasses are sold online by many retailers, but the key is to check that they comply with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for filters. The American Astronomical Society also has a list of suppliers to help you avoid buying counterfeit knockoffs that may not properly protect your eyes.

When was the last total solar eclipse in the U.S.?

The last total solar eclipse occurred across the country in 2017, leaving millions in awe, with some calling it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It also produced the meme-worthy moment of former President Donald Trump squinting directly at the eclipse without protective eye glasses.

Image: President Donald Trump points to the sun as he arrives to view the solar eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017, at the White House in Washington.
President Donald Trump points to the sun as he arrives to view the solar eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017, at the White House.Andrew Harnik / AP

He later put a pair of glasses on to witness the eclipse and gave a thumbs up to reporters when asked about his reaction to the event.

One 2017 gathering for the eclipse in Oregon had more than 100,000 people in attendance.

The upcoming April eclipse promises to bring in more viewers, because at 115 miles wide, the path of totality is twice as wide as the 2017 eclipse, and it's expected to last twice as long.

Image: Trump and and Melania look up at the solar eclipse from the balcony of the White House
President Trump and first lady Melania Trump look up at the solar eclipse from the balcony of the White House in 2017.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images file

This is the second eclipse event in two years, but they are not the same. In October 2023, there was an annular solar eclipse in which the sun takes the shape of a "ring of fire" because the moon appears smaller than the sun.

Are there events scheduled around the eclipse?

Many cities in the path of the eclipse have planned celebrations to mark the rare event.

Columbus, a city of 50,000 in Indiana, has organized a host of activities during the eclipse.

"I feel like we kind of hit the cosmic lottery," Erin Hawkins, director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center, told TODAY on Feb. 26. "We're planning downtown festivals with bands playing and vendors and food trucks."

Bell County in Texas expects its population of 400,000 to double and possibly triple on the day of the eclipse from tourists hoping to witness the phenomenon.

Hotel rates along the route have also spiked, and some resorts are offering cosmic-themed stays. Delta has a special flight from Austin, Texas, to Detroit along the path of the eclipse that sold out within 24 hours.