2023 and 2024 are exciting years for solar eclipses!

On October 14, 2023, an annular solar eclipse will pass over North, Central, and South America.

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will pass over North America. 

This map shows the path the Moon's shadow will take across the United States during these two solar eclipses. 

Can you find your city or town on the map?

Explore the activities below to learn about the different types of eclipses, and how and where to view them.

What is an eclipse?

An eclipse happens when an object in space blocks an observer from seeing another object in space. On Earth, we can see lunar eclipses and solar eclipses. For this page, we're going to focus on solar eclipses.

During a solar eclipse, the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, so the people on Earth see a blocked view of the Sun. 

During a lunar eclipse, the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon. So the people on Earth see the Earth's shadow on the Moon.

What are the different types of solar eclipses? 

There are four! The type of eclipse depends on how the Sun, Moon, and Earth are aligned.
Please remember that you can only look at the Sun safely if you have special safety glasses protecting your eyes!

A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon completely blocks the Sun from the person viewing on Earth because they are exactly aligned.

A partial solar eclipse happens when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are not exactly lined up. Only part of the Sun is blocked from a person looking at it from Earth

An annular solar eclipse happens when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are lined up, but the Moon is at its farthest point from the Earth. A person looking at it from Earth will the Sun blocked by the Moon but will still be able to see a bright ring of the Sun.

hybrid eclipse happens when an eclipse changes from an annular eclipse to a total eclipse, and back again. 

Are solar eclipses rare? 

Solar eclipses actually happen about twice a year! They only seem rare because they aren't always able to be seen where people live. If you look at the map at the top of this page, you'll see that the path the Moon's shadow takes only covers part of the Earth.

On Demand Activities

Jump to a Section:   Solar Eclipse Model      Spotlight Story      Story Time Recommendations      Shadow Puppets      Explore Out of the House

Activity: Make a Solar Eclipse Model - Two Options!

For an eclipse to happen, the Sun, Moon, and Earth have to line up just right! Give it a try using materials you can find around your home.

For ages 10 and up

Materials Needed: 
  • One yardstick or dowel measuring 30 inches long
  • Clay - Modeling clay, Play-Doh or model magic
  • 2 toothpicks
  • 2 small binder clips
  • Bright light source - it could be the Sun on a clear day or a flashlight

Materials for an activity

Step 1: 

Make a ball 1 inch wide to be the Earth and a ball 1/4 inch wide to be the Moon. Gently stick a toothpick into each ball.

Step 2: 

Take your yardstick or dowel, and attach the Earth model to one end with a binder clip.

Step 3: 

Measure 30 inches away from the Earth ball using your yardstick or measuring tape, and attach the Moon ball there with the other binder clip. Your model now represents the average distance between the Earth and Moon if they were this size. 

Step 4: 

Take your model outside on a sunny day, or have someone shine a flashlight toward you. 

Hold the model so the stick points toward the Sun or flashlight, with the Moon ball closer to the light, and try to line up the Earth ball so that the Moon’s tiny shadow lands on it. 

Don't worry if it takes time to do this. It’s difficult!

Think About It!

Even though the real Earth and Moon feel pretty big to us, they are much smaller than the space between them, and they very rarely line up with the Sun exactly.

That’s why we only see eclipses a few times per year. 

An activity for Soar Together 

An activity for Soar Together

A demonstration of a Soar Together activity.

For ages 4 and up

An illustration of a Soar Together activity. 

Materials Needed: 
  • One large ball, like a beach ball or basketball
  • One small ball, like a tennis ball
  • A bright light source, like the Sun or a flashlight
Step 1: 

Choose who will hold the Earth (the large ball) and who will hold the Moon (the small ball). 

Step 2: 

Have the person holding the Earth stand in one place while the person holding the Moon takes three big steps away from the Earth.

Step 3: 

Hold up the Moon in front of the light source and make a shadow on the Earth. You've just created an eclipse!

Step 4: 

Move the Moon's shadow so it moves across the Earth. You've just created a model of the solar eclipse path!

Think About It!

What did you notice about the shadow of the Moon on the Earth? Does it cover the whole Earth or just part of it?

Modified from a NISENet Solar Eclipse activity


Spotlight Story: Cecilia Payne

Scientist Cecilia Payne didn't study eclipses, but she did make an important discovery about stars, which include our Sun.

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Cecilia Payne was an astronomer who made the amazing discovery of what stars are made of. She was also the first woman to be a professor at Harvard University and the first woman to lead a department at Harvard.

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Cecilia Payne was born in 1900 in England. 
She decided to focus on science for her studies and at 18, she was accepted to the University of Cambridge.
She realized she wanted to study physics after hearing scientist Sir Arthur Eddington speak about his expedition to observe the 1919 solar eclipse. This observation proved Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. Cecilia was hooked!
She's pictured here with some of her fellow students.

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Cecilia studied to be an astronomer, but her college did not give science degrees to women. She had to move to the United States to be a researcher. Cecilia joined the graduate program a the Harvard Observatory Lab in Massachusetts. 

She became the first person to receive a PhD in Astronomy at Radcliffe College at Harvard University. A fellow astronomer called her work “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.” 

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Cecilia made a major discovery that the Sun is mainly made of the gases helium and hydrogen. However, other scientists thought she was incorrect. They thought the Earth and Sun were made of the same things. 
Even after one of the astronomers discovered that she was in fact correct, she still did not get the credit for the discovery. It was only many years later that she was given credit.

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She continued working at Harvard but doing jobs she was overqualified for. In 1938, she was given the title of astronomer, but her work wasn't officially recognized until after 1956. Finally, Payne became the first woman to become a professor at Harvard, and later became the first woman to lead a department.
Because of Cecilia’s work in astronomy, we have an important understanding of space and stars.

Story Time Recommendations

The Sun is My Favorite Star

By Frank Asch
Best for ages 3 to 7
Celebrate all of the ways the Sun plays an important role in our lives. 


By Andy Rash
Best for ages 4 to 8
Follow along in this story about a father and son's adventure to see a total solar eclipse.

The Fire of Stars

By Kirsten Larson, illustrated by Katherine Roy
Best for ages 6 and up
Learn more about scientist Cecilia Payne and how she worked to make an important discovery.

Activity: Celebrate the Solar Eclipse with Shadow Puppets

When you're in a dark room and you put your hand in front of a light, what happens? You make a shadow!

An eclipse happens when the Moon gets in the way of the Sun's light, which makes a shadow on the Earth. This image shows the Moon's shadow on the Earth as seen from the International Space Station during the 2017 solar eclipse.

As millions of people across the United States experienced a total eclipse as the umbra, or moon’s shadow passed over them, only six people witnessed the umbra from space. Viewing the eclipse from orbit were NASA’s Randy Bresnik, Jack Fischer and Peggy Whitson, ESA (European Space Agency’s) Paolo Nespoli, and Roscosmos’ Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Sergey Ryazanskiy. The space station crossed the path of the eclipse three times as it orbited above the continental United States at an altitude of 250 miles.

Watch the craft time video to learn how to make shadow puppets!

Materials Needed:

  • Construction paper
  • Craft sticks
  • Tape
  • Scissors

Tip: Use a globe or map of the Earth and a bright light source to make shadows on the Earth.

Grab your flashlight and join museum educator Ann Caspari as she demonstrates how to make star shaped shadow puppets.

Craft Time! is made possible through the generous support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Explore Out of the House!

How do you view the eclipse safely?
  • Only use special eclipse glasses to look at the Sun. It is never safe to look directly at the Sun. 
  • Check your local library to see if they are handing out eclipse glasses. 
  • Another safe way to view the eclipse is by using tools that help you see it indirectly using a pinhole viewer from your kitchen—a colander!
    • During an eclipse, take the colander outside and put your back towards the Sun. 
    • Hold the colander up. 
    • Usually you would see circles of light, but during an solar eclipse, you'll see the Moon blocking the Sun!

Soar Together at Air and Space is made possible by the generous support of Northrop Grumman.