Chasing the Great American Eclipse

Chasing the Great American Eclipse


The Sun has been my professional life since 2017. This time period included my PhD in solar physics, moving across the world for a job researching the Sun, and publishing my first book, ‘The Sun: beginner’s guide to our local star’. And yet despite this, until the 8th of April, I’d never seen the Sun’s atmosphere with my own eyes. I’d never seen a total solar eclipse.

The total solar eclipse on the 8th of April was visible along a narrow 110-mile-wide path from Mexico, across the United States, into Canada. 31 million people resided under the ‘path of totality’ with a partial eclipse also visible to the rest of the continent. The sheer volume of people expected to witness the eclipse gave the event the appropriately named ‘Great American Eclipse’. My observing site was set for Dallas, Texas. The forecast for this area was bleak, with my only hope being the potential of small gaps in an overwise overcast sky. Unlike some colleagues, who changed plans to escape the impending cloud, other commitments had my location fixed. Cloud or no cloud, I’d be in Dallas for the eclipse.

The weather forecast gave me days of anxiety. I’d been awaiting this event for years, and knew I’d have to wait years before my next chance. Emerging from this stress, I’d even reached acceptance on eclipse day morning, that Dallas (and me) would not get lucky. However, as eclipse time rolled in, the weather started to change. As the partial phases of the eclipse began (over an hour before the total eclipse), the Sun was suddenly visible intermittently through gaps in the cloud. As this weather pattern continued, eclipse visibility was still uncertain, mere minutes before the event. However, about five minutes prior to totality, the sky just opened. Every cloud vanished, leaving nothing but the partially-eclipsed Sun.

As totality approached, (the few minutes where the Sun is completely blocked by the Sun, and you can remove solar safety glasses to view the Sun’s extended atmosphere), I knew exactly what to expect. I understood the orbital mechanics creating the celestial event, the individual steps to watch out for in the moment, and the underlying physics of the imminently visible solar corona (the Sun’s atmosphere). And yet, although I knew what was coming, I also didn’t. I was prepared as anyone could be, and yet what came next was a complete surprise. As the total solar eclipse begun, I was immediately awe-struck by the raw beauty sitting in the sky above me. The rapid shift to darkness, the appearance of the stars and planets, and most importantly – the naked eye view of the Sun’s atmosphere. I had not anticipated the emotional response that I, and others around me, would feel. I understood the science, but I hadn’t understood the emotional reaction it would trigger in me.

Even if you care little about the Sun, Moon, or astronomy – you should still strive to see a total solar eclipse in your lifetime. It’s not about the science, it’s about the inherent beauty of the celestial dance above you, and what that stirs within you. I, like many, had seen partial solar eclipses before (many times). But a partial, even 99% partial, does not compare to totality. If even 1% of the Sun is visible, you will see nothing of value in comparison – it has to be total. A partial eclipse is akin to a total eclipse, as flying in a plane is to jumping out of one. Incomparable.

If you missed the 8th of April eclipse in North America, you’re not out of luck. The next two total solar eclipses will be visible from Europe, in August 2026 and August 2027. August 2026 will be visible from Greenland, Iceland and Spain, and August 2027 from Spain, Gibraltar, and northern Africa. In the meantime, you can learn more about eclipses in my recent book, ‘The Sun: beginner’s guide to our local star’. I hope to see some of you under the path of totality in 2026 or 2027!


 Photo: The 8th of April total solar eclipse, captured by Tom Kerss, a fellow Collins author (of Observing the Solar System, and other titles) and friend.




About the author

This blog was written by Dr. Ryan French, solar physicist and author of The Sun: Beginner’s Guide to Our Local Star. This fascinating guide explores history, science and modern observations to uncover the mysteries of the Sun and teaches you how you can observe it safely from your own back garden.