A Local Guide to the Solar Eclipse: Partial or total, prepare to be awed, if the clouds stay away

Phases of a solar eclipse. Click any image to launch gallery.<small> Photos by Ian Parker for Unsplash. </small>

Phases of a solar eclipse. Click any image to launch gallery. Photos by Ian Parker for Unsplash.

By Roderick Bates
©2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On Monday, April 8, a band of midday darkness about 100 miles wide will move in a northeasterly path across North America from Mexico to Newfoundland as the moon crosses in front of the sun. In Vermont, the southern edge of that path will cross through Middlebury and Barre; the northern edge will pass just south of Montreal.

From beginning to end, the eclipse will last about 2 hours and 20 minutes, beginning around 2:14 p.m. for the partial eclipse and  3:26 p.m. for the total eclipse. The phenomenon will end around 4:37 p.m., according to the state. In the centerline, passing through Saint Albans and Enosburg, the period of total darkness, or totality, will last for just over three and a half minutes. At either edge, the totality will last for approximately two minutes.

During those few minutes, the sky will be nearly as dark as night. The brighter stars will emerge; songbirds will stop chirping, owls may hoot and coyotes may yip and howl.

Outside this “band of totality,” the rest of Vermont will experience a partial eclipse. In and around Chester, we will experience about a 92% total eclipse. At its darkest, a thin crescent of sun will still be visible. Venus should be visible below and to the right of the sun, at 5 o’clock on an imagined clock face. The stars that become visible won’t be those we would have seen the night before; we are looking at a different part of the sky and will see stars normally visible in the late-night skies of early October.

Make your viewing plans, keep your eyes safe

A total solar eclipse. <small>NASA photo by Nat Gopalswamy. </small>

A total solar eclipse. NASA photo by Nat Gopalswamy.

So, what is a reasonable plan for viewing the eclipse? Given that this will be the last eclipse to traverse the continental United States for 21 years — until August 2045, and given that the path of totality is so close to us, you may want to drive the few hours north that will put you in the path.

In the path, day becomes night for two or three minutes and, in that short interval, you will be able to view the total eclipse safely with your naked eyes. Experienced viewers describe viewing a total eclipse as awe-inspiring and life-altering.

If you do opt to view the total eclipse, you should expect that others will as well, attracting more visitors from Hartford, Boston and NYC than foliage season. So, take the back roads if you can rather than the highway, and head for any open space with a clear view to the south and west. You don’t need to go to the same observatory that thousands are headed toward. A ball field, the green in a small town, any public open space will do so long as there will be no light pollution during those crucial minutes. 

If you decide to stay nearer to home to view the partial eclipse, remember that even at 90% obscured by the moon, the sun will still be extremely bright and not safe to look at directly. Do not use ordinary sunglasses; they don’t provide nearly enough protection. Eclipse glasses made of a special black polymer are inexpensive and available from a variety of online sources. Welding glasses of shade #14 can be used. But anything less than #14 should not be used.

Mylar viewing glasses are not recommended. They scratch easily and even a tiny pinhole can allow a dangerous amount of light through.  On the other hand, eclipse glasses will allow you to observe the entire two and half hours that it will take for the moon to pass in front of the sun.

The safest method

Baily's beads during a solar eclipse. <small>NASA photo by Aubrey Gemignani.</small>

Baily’s beads during a solar eclipse. NASA photo by Aubrey Gemignani.

Indirect viewing is the safest way to observe an eclipse. It can also be the most fun.  You can make a projector with two sheets of paper and a thumbtack. Poke a small hole in the center of one sheet of paper, then hold it so that sunlight passes through the hole onto the other sheet of paper. By varying the distance between the papers you can adjust the size of the projected image of the sun.

Poke a second hole, and you can project two images at once. There is no limit to how many images you can make. A colander will project dozens of images of the eclipse onto the ground, and standing under a tree and looking down, you may see hundreds of little images coming through between the leaves.

Baily’s beads and diamond rings

If you choose to head north, the totality will offer opportunities to see phenomena called Baily’s beads or the diamond ring. These occur when the moon is moving directly in front of the sun, and the craters, mountains, and valleys along the edge of the moon allow light to shine through. As the moon nears completely covering the sun, its irregular edge can allow light to pass through a string of valleys, causing the effect called baily’s beads. When only one irregularity lets light through, the diamond ring is visible. In the rare case that light shows through in two spots, you’ll see a double diamond ring.

The diamond ring created during a solar eclipse. <small>NASA photo by Carla Thomas.</small>

The diamond ring created during a solar eclipse. NASA photo by Carla Thomas.

A quick trick: If you do decide to travel north for the totality, you can borrow a trick from experienced eclipse chasers; Wear an eyepatch over your dominant eye for 20 minutes or so before totality. This will allow your eye to adjust to the darkness, so that when the eclipse reaches totality, you will be able to see more stars than you would if you were not night-adjusted.

Check local sources: A few days before the eclipse, check for announcements of any local astronomy gatherings.

Manage your expectations: The reality is that variable weather is the norm in Vermont and that Vermont skies are cloudy about 80% of the time. So, get ready for the eclipse, cross your fingers and keep checking the weather on April 8.

Roderick Bates, a former Chester resident, is a board member of the Southern Vermont Astronomy Group and is the editor of the poetry journal Rat’s Ass Review. He lives in Weathersfield.

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  1. In my lifetime, I have experienced both a total eclipse, and a 92% eclipse. There is no comparison of the experience. I’m headed north the morning of April 8th. Even if its cloudy, it will get dark.

  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    Thank you John! We definitely should have been more specific. We’ve just clarified, from the Vermont state website, that it will start at 2:14 p.m. for the partial eclipse and 3:26 p.m. for the total eclipse. Expect the whole phenomenon to be finished around 4:37 p.m. Of course, it all depends on where you are in Vermont.

  3. John Garison says:

    What time of day will the eclipse begin, be at maximum, and end?