Private helicopters and a state emergency declared: America prepares for its total solar eclipse

Millions of people in North America are preparing for a total solar eclipse on Monday, but how much of it will we be able to see in the UK?

North America will see a total solar eclipse on Monday, which is set to draw the continent's biggest eclipse crowd ever.

The eclipse will make landfall along Mexico’s Pacific coast and cross into Texas and 14 other US states, before exiting over Canada.

It will last almost twice as long as the total solar eclipse that stretched coast-to-coast in the US in 2017, with an even wider audience of up to 44 million.

The moon will shroud the sun and plunge parts of the globe into darkness for up to four minutes, 28 seconds, and even NASA is offering several hours of streaming online from cities along the totality pass.

Here’s everything you need to know about the celestial showstopper.

What is a total solar eclipse?

The moon will line up perfectly between the Earth and the sun at midday on April 8, blotting out the sunlight.

The moon will line up perfectly between the Earth and the sun at midday, blotting out the sunlight. Credit: AP

The full eclipse will last longer than usual because the moon will be just 223,000 miles from Earth, one of the year’s closest approaches.

The closer the moon is to Earth, the bigger it is in the sky from our perspective, resulting in an especially long and intense period of sun-blocked darkness.

Totality will last the longest over Mexico at four minutes, 28 seconds. Elsewhere along the track, like in Syracuse, New York, totality will last just one-and-a-half minutes.

At one of the most spectacular places in the world, Niagara Falls, millions of people hope to witness a breathtaking total solar eclipse, as ITV News US Correspondent Dan Rivers reports

What is the eclipse path?

The moon’s shadow will slice a diagonal line from the southwest to the northeast across North America, briefly plunging communities along the track into darkness.

Totality will enter the continent at Mazatlan, Mexico, and exit at Newfoundland in Canada.

A map showing some of the main cities under the eclipse path. Credit: AP

In between, 15 US states from Texas to Maine will experience totality, including snippets of Tennessee and Michigan.

A huge 32 million people under the eclipse path are in the US.

It will be a repeat for Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and Carbondale, Illinois, which were also in prime position for 2017’s total solar eclipse.

A comet to spot as well?

During totality, some may be able to spot a comet along with four planets - if they're lucky.

Jupiter will be to the left of the sun and Venus to the right. Saturn and Mars will be to the right of Venus, but fainter.

The solar system’s three other planets will be in the vicinity, but virtually impossible to see with the naked eye.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is swinging past Earth, as it does every 71 years.

Still faint, it will be positioned near Jupiter during the eclipse.

Over 32 million of the 44 million under the eclipse path are in the US. Credit: AP

But it will take a sudden outburst of dust and gas to see this so-called devil comet without a telescope, according to Anita Cochran of the University of Texas at Austin.

How are people preparing?

The one item everyone needs to safely watch an eclipse is a pair of special glasses.

But others are going above and beyond. A hotel brand in the US has offered two photographers $5,000 (£3,979) each to fly them up in a private helicopter to capture the phenomenon.

Meanwhile, American company Delta Air Lines is selling a special flight on a plane with extra large windows to view the eclipse.

"If you’ve ever wanted to experience a total solar eclipse from the sky, Delta has you covered this April,” the company said.

Passengers on the flight from Austin to Detroit on Monday will get a particularly incredible view.

Niagara Falls mayor, Jim Diodati, has said that he expects the most visitors his city has ever seen in a single day. Credit: AP

Because of expected heavy traffic and other disruptions, hundreds of schools are closing or switching to remote learning in states including Texas, Indiana, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont.

Inmates in New York are even suing the state corrections department over the decision to lock down prisons during the eclipse.

The suit filed on Friday argues the decision violates inmates' constitutional rights to practice their faiths by preventing them from taking part in a religiously significant event.

The plaintiffs are six men with varying religious backgrounds.

"A solar eclipse is a rare, natural phenomenon with great religious significance to many," the complaint reads, noting that Bible passages describe an eclipse-like phenomenon during Jesus' crucifixion while sacred Islamic works describes a similar event when the Prophet Muhammad’s son died.

People have been urged to use their telescopes to capture the phenomenon. Credit: AP

In Niagara, a state of emergency has been declared around the Canadian side of the famous waterfall, as it was named by the National Geographic to be one of the best places to see the eclipse.

This has since led to a legal challenge by civil rights group The Canadian Constitution Foundation, which said: "An eclipse is not an emergency."

The group, which has filed for a judicial review, called on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to "end it now".

Niagara Falls mayor, Jim Diodati, has said he expects the most visitors his city has ever seen in a single day.

The declaration sets in motion some planning tools to prepare, which may involve traffic jams, pressure on emergency services, and mobile network overloads.

When was the last total solar eclipse in the US?

The US hasn’t experienced a total solar eclipse since August 21, 2017, although a “ring of fire” solar eclipse crossed a part of the country last October.

The moon was too far away then to completely blot out the sun, leaving a brilliant, burning ring around our star.

The dramatic “ring of fire” stretched from Oregon to Texas, and crossed over Central America and Colombia, before exiting over Brazil.

The 'ring of fire' eclipse occurred in October. Credit: AP

When is the next one?

After Monday, the next total solar eclipse won’t occur until 2026.

But it will graze the top of the world, dipping into Greenland, Iceland and Spain.

The next one in 2027 will march across Spain and northern Africa, with totality lasting an incredible six-and-a-half minutes.

North Americans will have to wait until 2033 for another total solar eclipse, but it will be limited to Alaska.

In 2044, Western Canada, Montana and North Dakota will have front-row seats.

And in 2045, the US will once again experience a coast-to-coast total solar eclipse.

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