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In the dark about my eclipse destination on Monday

Simon Calder’s Travel

Delicious anticipation is a key component of the glories of travel. A beachside taverna, a mountain pass or a world-class museum? Wherever you picture yourself weeks or months from now, the expectation of a journey delivers abundant rewards and lifts the spirits. Having said that, I find myself in the somewhat awkward position of being on the verge of departing for the world’s biggest-ever astronomical party – but not knowing where exactly I might join it.

Here’s the context: on Monday 8 April, the moon will blot out the sun along a 115-mile-wide “zone of totality” – a stripe of darkness that will sweep across North America from Mexico’s Pacific Coast to Atlantic Canada, visiting dozens of US cities along the way.

I very much hope to witness this total solar eclipse, but as of Saturday evening I do not know where I will be on the day. For the previous Great American Eclipse, in August 2017, I booked three years in advance; for this one, it will be just 24 hours ahead.

The 2017 total solar eclipse, which swept from Oregon to South Carolina (and which I watched in Wyoming), was a mere warm-up for this Monday’s cosmic event. While the last one covered sparsely populated locations, the 2024 astronomical extravaganza will be far more accessible: 32 million Americans live within the zone of totality.

The duration of darkness is also remarkably high: a maximum of four minutes and 28 seconds, two-thirds more than the last time the US experienced daytime darkness.

Anyone beneath a clear sky will experience the closest the universe gets to magic. The air chills. The stars and planets appear in the middle of the day. For those brief moments, the only signals that there is a star at the heart of the solar system are faint diamonds of light on the edge of the heart of darkness: this is sunshine slipping through lunar valleys.

Surely the greatest show on earth – so long as your view is not obscured by cloud cover, which downgrades a cosmological marvel to an eerie daytime gloom. And that, for millions of would-be watchers, is the problem.

The brilliant astronomer and eclipse guru, John Mason, pored over the weather records for 8 April for many previous decades. He concluded the location with the best chance of clear skies is on the Texas-Mexico border near San Antonio. Dr Mason emphasises, though, that you can stack the meteorological…

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