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Celestial Events You Don’t Want To Miss In 2024

And the very best places to see them.

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Total Solar Eclipse Seen from Chile
Total solar eclipse seen from Chile in 2019 (Marcelo Hernandez/Getty Images)
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Getting up to watch the sunrise? Overrated. Eclipses, meteor showers, the transit of Venus — now these are the memorable events that have people looking skyward, traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles to witness.

This kind of destination travel, known as “astrotourism,” is one of the top travel trends of 2024. Other types of dark-sky tourism that focus on evening outdoor activities but are not necessarily related to stargazing (think camping or moon bathing) are also growing in popularity.

“Connecting with the great outdoors was on the rise even before the pandemic,” says Amir Eylon, a market research consultant specializing in travel and tourism and president of Longwoods International. The shutdown accelerated that interest, and today, the national park system is seeing record visitation — and not just during daylight hours.

Many national parks such as the Grand Canyon have nighttime programming, like guided hikes. These are among the most popular programs they run, says Ruskin Hartley, CEO of DarkSky International, a group dedicated to fighting light pollution and preserving nighttime darkness. “People are generally yearning for these experiences,” he says.

The upcoming solar eclipse on April 8 has certainly added to the fervor. Towns along the path of totality — the geographic strip where the moon completely obscures the sun — are seeing record tourism. Some have even declared states of emergency due to the influx. Many, including Columbus, OH, where Eylon is based, organize festivals and special events around the event and close schools for the day. “People want to collect that merit badge of an experience,” says Eylon.

Does an eclipse live up to the hype? Fred Espenak, an author, photographer and retired NASA astrophysicist known as “Mr. Eclipse,” believes so. He has seen 30 solar eclipses, including one on every continent. Witnessing true totality is an “overwhelming experience,” he explains. “In a matter of seconds, the world is plunged from daylight to this eerie twilight.”

While the April 8 eclipse will be visible from anywhere in North America, most people will only see a partial eclipse, which Espenak compares to “getting four matches on a scratch-off lottery ticket. There is a world of difference between a partial and a total eclipse.” This next one, he adds, is expected to have a bigger, brighter corona and to last slightly longer than most, at four minutes.

Although a total eclipse occurs someplace in the world roughly every 12 to 24 months, it’s rare to catch a total eclipse because they can only be seen from within a narrow track known as the path of totality. This strip is typically just around 100 miles wide. That’s less than one percent of the Earth’s surface. The last solar eclipse in which totality was visible in North America occurred in 2017. Before that, there hadn’t been one since 1979 (or exactly my entire life). The next one won’t happen until 2044, only in parts of North Dakota and Montana. 

Such limited viewing opportunities are driving travel. If you happen to miss this solar eclipse, you can travel to northern Spain in August 2026 or parts of southern Spain and north Africa, including Morocco and Egypt, the following August. If none of those appeal, perhaps Sydney, Australia, in August 2028.

People are indeed booking trips that far out. As Espenak says, “Eclipses are worth traveling halfway around the world. They are the most spectacular astronomical event you can see with the naked eye.”

“I am prepared to fully break down,” says Joy Manning, 46, a Philadelphia resident who booked a hotel in Oswego, New York in the path of totality for the April 8 eclipse. “The blackness of looking at the moon in front of the sun is chilling and awe-inspiring — it makes you feel so small.”

When Manning was first hit by the astrotourism bug, she didn’t even have a passport. She had been watching a nature documentary, saw a segment about the Northern Lights, and was seized with the need to see it herself. So, in 2012, she, her husband, and two other couples went to Iceland for that very reason.

“That was, I guess, my first brush,” she says, recalling the experience as “spectacular. There are so few opportunities for true awe and true wonder, and the cosmos is one of the last available ways to experience that.”

If you can’t make it to the path of totality for this year’s eclipse, there are still plenty of other ways to indulge in astrotourism, from lunar eclipses to good old-fashioned star-gazing parties. “Meteor showers are incredible events,” says Hartley. “Simply viewing the Milky Way used to be one of the most common experiences, one that inspired so much art and culture. Now, it is vanishingly rare."

Start by figuring out where and when to go. “The sky is constantly changing, but also predictable enough to plan a trip,” Hartley says. You can find lunar charts online or search DarkSky International’s list of Dark Sky Places, more than 200 locales protected from modern light pollution. Then, book your ticket, pack your bags, and embrace the darkness.

Where to Go

Not sure where to start your celestial journey? Here are some recommendations:

Tucson, Arizona. Not only is this DarkSky's HQ, but it’s also the city where Espenak retired, mainly for the prime night sky viewing. Southern Arizona is clear and dry and home to Kitt Peak National Observatory, which has fabulous public programs.

Québec, Canada. Here, the world’s first International DarkSky Reserve surrounds Mont Mégantic, a national park and the famous Mont Mégantic Observatory.

Chile. The Southern Hemisphere is wonderful because you can see parts of the sky that are not visible from the USA, Espenak says.

Cherry Springs State Park, Coudersport, Pennsylvania. This is one of the clearest spots on the East Coast for stargazing. From the park, you can glimpse constellations, asteroids, meteor showers, the Omega nebula, and even the Northern Lights.

Los Cabos, Mexico. Star gaze in style at the Grand Velas luxury hotel, which offers stargazing packages and has its own giant telescope.

Know Before You Go.

Braving the crowds for a glimpse at totality can be challenging if you’re unprepared.

Expect high prices. Hotels, rental cars and even campgrounds sell out fast, and what is left will likely cost you extra. When traveling for a major celestial event, it’s best to book early to beat the crowds.

Bring more than sunglasses. To safely view the eclipse directly, you need special glasses, which will sell out as the day approaches. For guidelines and recommendations, visit the American Astronomical Society.

Shoot wisely. Espenak doesn’t recommend that first-timers bother with photos. If you must record the event, set up a smartphone on a tripod and start filming 5 minutes before totality begins. This will capture all the excitement and reactions to totality while freeing you up to enjoy it.

Pack for survival. The event itself is only four minutes long, but the journey there and back may take hours. If you’re driving, make sure you have a cooler with plenty of drinks and snacks, blankets, and a full tank of gas. You’re on your own for restrooms.

Delay your departure. After the eclipse, everyone wants to leave at once, and the mass exodus causes major traffic jams (car and human). If you can’t stay an extra day, at least hang around for a few more hours to let the crowds thin out. Pack a picnic, games, or other activity to stay occupied.

To check out the travel benefits offered by AARP, go here.

Do YOU plan to view the eclipse on April 8? Where will you be? Let us know in the comments below.

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