There is a specific date in 2024 that will hopefully be on your calendar for a few years. Monday, April 8, 2024, we will see a total solar eclipse visible from 15 United States as well as Mexico and Canada. Do you have plans? Good. Never heard of it? Time to do your research and book somewhere ASAP (see my feed for ideas).
However, there will be more happening in the skies over North America in 2024 than just a solar eclipse. From rare comet sightings and stunning planetary views to a trio of supermoons and another ‘ring of fire’, there will be plenty of celestial events to enjoy next year.
Here’s everything you need to know about stargazing, the night sky and chasing eclipses in 2024:
Great American Eclipse: Total Solar Eclipse
When and where: April 8, 2024, narrow path of totality across North America
An opportunity to experience totality only comes around every 375 years, on average, for any place on the planet. So to have two total solar eclipses in seven years in North America is quite something. Today’s total will last up to 4 minutes and 26 seconds, but geography will be everything.
Daytime darkness and the opportunity to see the sun’s spectacular corona with the naked eye will only be open to those attempting to travel the 125-mile-wide path of totality that stretches from the Pacific coast of northwestern Mexico to Atlantic Canada. Along the way, it will pass through parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. If you put in zero effort, you’ll see a rather unremarkable partial solar eclipse.
Two bright comets
When: March to April (Comet Pons-Brooks)/October (Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS)
In recent years there have been some glowing comments. Who can forget comet NEOWISE during the COVID-19 lockdown and last year’s oddly named “green comet” (all comets are green!). Two comets may be visible in 2024 — one of them, possibly in total on April 8!
That would be Comet Pons-Brooks, a short-period comet that orbits the sun every 71 years, which should be visible through binoculars in March and April. On April 12th, it will be close to Jupiter on its way to maximum brightness on April 21st. Close by will be Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS, a comet discovered in January 2023 that could be visible before sunrise in late September and an evening object on October 13.
One or both comets could erupt and shine at any moment – or they could go out.
Three meteor showers without a Moon
When: Quaternary Meteor Shower (January 3/4), Eta Aquariids (May 5/6) and Perseids (August 12-13)
A ton of meteor showers happen on pretty much the exact dates every year. However, don’t make the mistake of heading outside or looking for all dark skies. Not only are some more productive than others, but the phase of the moon makes a big difference in what you’ll see. In 2024, three major meteor showers will occur under a moonless sky.
First will come the Quadrantids in early January (60-200 “shooting stars” per hour at peak), followed by the Eta Aquariids of May (10-20 per hour) and, thankfully, the Perseids of August (100 per hour) – the last is the best and most popular.
Three Supermoons, One Eclipse
When: September 18, October 17 and November 15
Supermoons are increasingly big news, and in 2024 there will be a trio of these larger-than-average full moons to see. First up will be September’s full moon, the Super Harvest Moon Eclipse, which will move into Earth’s indistinct shadow and be eclipsed by 8% as seen from Europe, Africa and the Americas, though it won’t turn red.
Then there’s October’s Super Harvest Moon, the biggest, brightest and best full moon of the year, and finally November’s Super Beaver Moon. Catch them as they rise in the east if you want to be really impressed.
- September 18 – Super Harvest Lunar Eclipse
- October 17 – Super Hunter Moon
- November 15 – Super Beaver Moon
Planets that kiss
When: April 20, July 15 and August 15
Close conjunctions of planets – when they appear close to each other – are relatively rare, but 2024 will feature some unique views:
- April 20: Jupiter and Uranus (separated by half a degree)
- July 16: Mars and Uranus (separated by a degree—an outstretched finger)
- August 15: Mars and Jupiter (separated by only a third of a degree)
The rings of Saturn at their best
When and where: September 8
When Earth passes between the sun and an outer planet, that planet will appear to be both the most prominent (because it is closest) and its disk 100% illuminated as seen from Earth. That will happen with Saturn in September, with the sixth planet looking its brightest and best for all of 2024. Any small telescope will show you the most beautiful nighttime sight in astronomy—Saturn’s rings.
A “Ring of Fire”
When and where: October 2, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and South America
If you saw October’s annular solar eclipse, then you might consider traveling to see another one hanging over the mysterious Moai — the stone statues of the Rapa Nui culture — on Easter Island some 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) off the coast of Chile.
Jupiter at its biggest and best
When and where: December 6/7
Its annual opposition in early December will mean Jupiter will appear at its most prominent and brightest. It will also shine for the longest time, rising at dusk and setting at dawn as the planet is ideally positioned to observe the Great Red Spot, pink cloud bands and the four giant Galilean moons. If there was ever a time to buy a telescope for Christmas, it’s 2024.
I’m an eclipse expert—its editor WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com and its author The Complete Guide to the Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024. For the latest on the ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse—including travel and accommodation options—check out my main stream for new articles every day.
I wish you clear skies and open eyes.