In early April, a total solar eclipse will pass over North America, treating millions of people from Texas to Maine to a rare astronomical phenomenon.

There’s a catch, though: If you want to fully experience the eclipse, experts say, you have to be within the path of totality — a relatively narrow band within which the moon will entirely block the sun for a few minutes.

Maryland is not within the path of totality, so if you want to experience the full celestial show, you’ll have to travel. Expect crowds.

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The eclipse will be on Monday, April 8, so book your hotels and make your travel plans now.

The path of totality through the United States starts in Texas and travels over cities including Austin, Texas; Dallas; Indianapolis; Cleveland; Erie, Pennsylvania; Buffalo, New York; Rochester, New York; and Burlington, Vermont.

The path of totality is about 115 miles wide and, depending on the viewer’s location within the path, the total solar eclipse will last about 4 minutes and 28 seconds. A partial solar eclipse will be visible on a much wider path that includes the entire continental United States — and that will last longer.

Most of Maryland will be treated to a partial eclipse that blocks 85-90% of the sun. Farther west in the state, it will be 90-95% blocked. Sarah Frazier, a heliophysics communications manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, said the eclipse will peak around 3:21 p.m. in Baltimore.

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What is a total solar eclipse?

Due to a lucky cosmological coincidence, the sun and the moon appear the same size in the sky. They’re both just the right size and just the right distances away.

“The moon is just so precisely fitted over the sun. It’s really rare and special in that way,” Frazier said.

Because of that, there are times, every 19 months or so, when the moon aligns and entirely blocks the view of the sun from someplace on Earth, said Bob Leamon, an associate research scientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Leamon, who also works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said Earth is “unique” in having these total solar eclipses. Humans today are not only in the right place to view solar eclipses, but alive at the right time.

“Because the moon is slowly drifting away from the Earth because of tidal forces and gravity, in a few million years, there will never be another total solar eclipse,” Leamon said. “So, get it while you can.”

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During a total solar eclipse, the sky will darken, as if it were dawn or dusk. The temperature will likely drop, and you may experience an eerie silence, according to NASA.

An eclipse happens in stages, not all at once. Before and after totality, viewers looking at the sun can see the light slip away from the sun as it peeks through the bumps and mountains on the moon’s surface in phenomena called Baily’s Beads.

During totality — when the sun is entirely blocked by the moon in the sky — viewers with clear weather will see an “ethereal, gossamer web” streaming from the sun. These are portions of the sun’s atmosphere and solar gases boiling off the sun, Leamon said.

“I am a solar physicist, so I look at images of the sun and the solar corona pretty much every day. But it’s not the same,” he said.

A map shows the path of totality for the April 2024 solar eclipse over the United States. (Courtesy image/NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio)

I can’t travel. Will I still see anything in Maryland?

Yes! But not as much.

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All of Maryland will experience a partial solar eclipse, with different parts of the state seeing 80-90% of the sun blocked by the moon.

With a total solar eclipse, there is a brief moment when you can look at the sun without protection (more on that below). During a partial eclipse, though, that’s not possible. Even partially blocked, the sun is too bright to look at directly.

A partial eclipse in Maryland will show the sun partially blocked by the moon, creating a crescent shape.

One of the most fascinating parts of a partial eclipse is the crescent shadow effect it creates. Light coming through the leaves of a tree — or a colander, if you want to really see the effect — creates crescent-shaped shadows on the ground.

The edges of shadows also appear sharper during a partial eclipse, and, in Maryland, it will appear a bit dimmer during the eclipse than during the rest of the day. Leamon said it would probably look similar to a “summer’s evening.”

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But, he said, the difference between seeing a partial eclipse and seeing a total solar eclipse is akin to the difference between winning the Super Bowl and almost winning the Super Bowl.

Do I need to prepare?

Yes. Please do not look directly at the sun without protection, especially in Maryland.

During a total solar eclipse, it is safe to look at the sun without eye protection only briefly, and only in the path of totality, Frazier said.

However, it is relatively easy to obtain proper protection in the form of eclipse glasses.

NASA does not endorse any particular brand or manufacturer of eclipse glasses, Frazier said. She recommended trying to get some from a library or a museum.

If you purchase a pair, make sure it adheres to international standards. The marking to look for on eclipse glasses is ISO standard 12312-2. That’s the international standard code for direct observation of the sun.

Frazier said you can always test your eclipse glasses before the event, too. When you put them on, you should not be able to see anything except the sun or another direct source of light, like the filament of a light bulb.

“They’re extremely dark, thousands of times darker than regular sunglasses,” she said.

Will this happen again?

Yes! Total solar eclipses happen with regularity and are entirely predictable. Earth is a big planet, though, and a lot of it is covered in water — so the path of a solar eclipse does not always cross over a well-populated area.

The next time total solar eclipse will not pass over the United States until August 2044.