The last total solar eclipse over the US was pretty spectacular, as anyone who saw it will attest. Looking at the photos, it's hard to imagine how the sight could have been improved upon in the eclipse taking place on April 8 this year.
But if we are lucky and the weather is fine, we could be in for something special, as the eclipse coincides with the solar maximum.
Sun activity increases and decreases in an 11-year cycle known as the Schwabe cycle. From 1826 to 1843, German amateur astronomer Heinrich Schwabe observed the Sun, discovering that it rotates on its axis once every 27 days. He also noticed that over 11 years (though it can be as short as eight years, or as long as 14) the Sun goes from quiet periods, where no sunspots can be seen, to the maximum phase where 20 or more groups of sunspots can be seen, before returning to the minimum phase.
The 2017 eclipse took place during the solar minimum, when the Sun's activity is at its lowest. The solar maximum was previously forecast for 2025, meaning it wouldn't quite be at its highest period of activity as the magnetic poles flip. However, predictions have since been revised, with the next solar maximum predicted to be sometime between January and October this year.
So what does that mean for the eclipse? In short, it could be quite spectacular.
"In 2017, the Sun was nearing solar minimum. Viewers of the total eclipse could see the breathtaking corona – but since the Sun was quiet, streamers flowing into the solar atmosphere were restricted to just the equatorial regions of the star. The Sun is more magnetically symmetrical during solar minimum, causing this simpler appearance," NASA explains. "During the 2024 eclipse, the Sun will be in or near solar maximum, when the magnetic field is more like a tangled hairball. Streamers will likely be visible throughout the corona. In addition to that, viewers will have a better chance to see prominences – which appear as bright, pink curls or loops coming off the Sun."
The eclipse should be visible from Mexico to Canada. The path of totality – the area where people will see a total solar eclipse – is wider than in 2017 too, as the Moon is closer to Earth due to where it is in its orbit, meaning more people will see the Sun's corona.
"With lucky timing, there could even be a chance to see a coronal mass ejection – a large eruption of solar material – during the eclipse," NASA added.