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Total solar eclipse to sweep through New York next year

2017 Total Solar Eclipse
(NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)/(NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
(NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
A total solar eclipse is seen on Monday, August 21, 2017 above Madras, Oregon. A total solar eclipse swept across a narrow portion of the contiguous United States from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. A partial solar eclipse was visible across the entire North American continent along with parts of South America, Africa, and Europe. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Parts of central and northern New York will have a front-row seat to a rare phenomenon in the skies next April. A total solar eclipse will sweep through the U.S.

Cornell University astronomy professor Phil Nicholson said the geometry will be just right, and the moon will block out the sun.

He calls the phenomenon “spectacular.”

"Because the moon is almost exactly the same apparent size in the sky as the sun, that complete blockage only happens for a few minutes,” Nicholson said. “And it only happens for… a narrow range of locations on the Earth."

The total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, is expected to sweep up from Mexico into the United States, where it will carve a path through Dallas, Indianapolis, and Erie, PA, before reaching western and central New York, and heading up into Canada.

"We're just about ideally situated, depending on where you are in New York,” said Nicholson. “Buffalo is about as close to the center line as you can get for a big city. Rochester is also within the path. Syracuse is just barely within the edge."

Nicholson said eclipses and their cycles have been tracked for thousands of years, all the way back to the ancient Babylonians. The 2024 eclipse will be part of the Saros 139 cycle, and he said a number of factors have to be just right for an eclipse to occur. Those include the length of time it takes the moon to go around the sun and its distance from Earth.

"All the stars align, so to speak, or in this case, it's the moon aligning with the sun."

With this rare event comes a unique research opportunity for students at SUNY Oswego. Katelyn Barber, an assistant professor in the atmospheric and geological sciences department, will be working with a student-run team on a project funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Students will be sending up weather balloons before, during, and after the eclipse, as high as 100,000 feet into the sky. Barber said they’ll be tracking how the eclipse affects gravity waves and meteorological conditions.

"Without the sun, the temperature's going to drop,” said Barber. “How does that affect the meteorology that was going on before the eclipse? So, do we see a sudden change in our meteorological conditions, especially in that lower part of the atmosphere?"

Barber said SUNY Oswego is making plans to get the whole community involved in the effort, from watching the balloons launch to possibly handing out protective eclipse glasses. She’s keeping her fingers crossed for ideal eclipse-viewing weather:

"Basically, clear skies, lights winds, no precipitation, which unfortunately, is not what you're going to find very often up in this part of the woods in April."

But Barber said she’s hopeful with spring’s variable weather in central New York, eclipse watchers will luck into a sunny day.

Nicholson said he’ll be keeping a close eye on the forecast, too. He’s never seen an eclipse before, and he’s definitely making plans to watch this one.

"It's an experience of a lifetime to actually be in the totality of an eclipse."

If you’re interested in seeing an eclipse, Nicholson recommends catching next year’s if you can. The next one scheduled to sweep through the contiguous United States isn’t until August 23, 2044.

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.