Victor Wembanyama is not the only thing that will be blocking out the sun in San Antonio this fall. That’s because the Alamo City is one of the best places to be for the eclipse. The other eclipse, that is. Texas is the only state in the U.S. that is smack-dab in the middle of the path of both the eagerly anticipated April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse and the annular solar eclipse on October 14 of this year. One San Antonio–based eclipse glasses manufacturer has somewhat awkwardly dubbed this convergence “the Texas 2’Clipse™.”
While spring’s total eclipse will only be at 100 percent in parts of San Antonio, you can experience the full October show anywhere in the city, along with portions of the nearby Hill County. Other prime viewing spots include Uvalde, Beeville, and all around the Permian Basin and Texas Coastal Bend.
So what’s an annular eclipse compared to a total eclipse? The fundamentals are the same. A solar eclipse is a rare instance when the orbits of the earth and the moon put them both in a direct line with the sun. But as its name suggests, a total eclipse puts on a more dramatic show.
“The difference between a solar total eclipse and an annular eclipse is basically how much of the solar disk the moon blocks out,” says University of Texas at Austin astronomy professor William Cochran. “The reason that this varies is that the orbit of Earth around the sun and the orbit of the moon around Earth are not perfectly circular.” If not for this elliptical orbit pattern, there would be solar eclipses every month. Instead, they only happen somewhere in the world a few times a year, and very rarely in any particular state or even country: the next annular and total eclipses that will be visible in North America aren’t until 2039 and 2045, respectively.
When the moon is closer to the earth, it appears bigger to us (though it isn’t actually bigger). When it’s farther away, it appears smaller (ditto). And the same goes for the sun. So “when they do line up, if the moon appears slightly bigger than the sun, it will block out all the sun,” says Cochran. “That’s a total eclipse. But if the moon appears somewhat smaller than the sun, it will only block out part of the sun, and that’s an annular eclipse.” So instead of total darkness, what you get in an annular eclipse is a little bit of sunlight all the way around the edge of the moon, resulting in what’s known as . . . well, let’s turn it over to Willie and Johnny Cash.
“A spectacular thing to see,” says Cochran of the ring of fire.
And now we interrupt this story for a public service announcement.
Eclipse or no eclipse, you should never stare directly at the sun for any length of time. It’s just that during an eclipse, you want to, which is where special protective glasses (not just sunglasses) or indirect viewing methods (like a do-it-yourself pinhole projector) come into the picture. And while you’ll be able to go without eye protection for a while if you’re in the totality of the 2024 eclipse (because the sun will be completely blocked), you can’t ever do that while looking at the sun during an annular eclipse, because even that narrow ring of fire can literally scorch your retinas.
Check out the American Astronomical Society’s website for full eye safety information; additionally, if your community, school, or organization plans to have some kind of eclipse-watching event, the University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory is offering a series of online planning workshops, with the next one scheduled for September 5.
We now return to our regularly scheduled story.
So, should you expend as much effort trying to see the annular eclipse as you might already be planning to expend for April 2024?
Probably not. If you’re in Central Texas and can get to Kerrville or San Antonio easily enough, or you feel like heading down to Port Aransas or Corpus Christi from Houston for the weekend anyway, by all means. But if you’re in Dallas, you probably don’t need to drive five hours to Midland.
The good news is, traffic should be less soul-crushing—though by no means nonexistent—and there are also plenty of places to stay, with few multiple-night minimums and or marked-up rates, unlike the madness you can expect for the total eclipse. The annular likely won’t even test the hotel capacity of San Antonio, a city that is used to tourists, conventions, and big sporting events. There are also still private campgrounds out there to be found. RV and camping sites at the 17 Texas state parks in the path of the annular eclipse are mostly gone, but reservations for day passes don’t open until a month ahead of time, so mark that calendar (and while you’re at it, don’t sleep on the five-month reservation window for the 32 state parks that are in the path of totality on April 8). You’ll also want to keep an eye on weather forecasts. Clear skies, full eclipse, can’t lose!
Whether you day-trip or overnight, here are some of the best spots in Texas to see the annular eclipse.
Bronco, 11:41:08 am
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:12.4
If you really want to be among the first people from Texas to experience the ring of fire, head into New Mexico, where the annularity begins more than an hour sooner, in Albuquerque (10:34 a.m.), Roswell (10:38 a.m.), and such border-area spots as Caprock, Lovington, and Hobbs (between 10:39 and 10:41 a.m.). It then arrives at the “Welcome to Texas” sign on U.S. 380, in Bronco, though for an even longer show, head a little farther south, to Higginbotham, where it will start at 11:41:18 a.m. and go for 4:44.8.
Midland, 11:43:21 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:54.7
Staff from the McDonald Observatory will be coming to the heart of oil country, with a big eclipse-watching event at Midland’s Blakemore Planetarium at the Museum of the Southwest. For a safe experience, you’ll be able to tap into the observatory’s inventory of more than 100,000 specially branded “viewers”: flat cards with a protective solar filter window, which are easier to pass around and share than glasses. Just remember to stop looking at the sun before you give yours to your neighbor. Then you can save them for next April too.
If you want to get hyped up early, Blakemore Planetarium also has two eclipse-related films: “Totality Over Texas” and “Eclipse: The Sun Revealed,” in the Helen Greathouse Educational Discovery Dome. Check the museum’s website or Facebook page for the latest schedules.
Utopia, 11:49:58 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:57.9
Ingram, 11:50:07 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:23.2
Kerrville, 11:50:23 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:15.1
The path continues southeast over such towns as Ozona, Sonora, and Junction (between 11:46 and 11:48 a.m.) before getting to the spot that puts the x in Texas Eclipse. This portion of the Hill Country is firmly and completely in the crosshairs of both the annular and total eclipses, with some of the longest times for both. These are also the places to go if you want to hear some music with your solar adventure.
Four Sisters Ranch, in Utopia, is having weekend events for both eclipses, accommodating as many as 1,500 people. October’s Eclipse Utopia (presented by the same folks who put on the long-running Utopiafest) features two stages and more than two dozen bands over two days, headlined by !!! (that’s pronounced “Chk Chk Chk,” in case you were wondering) and the Octopus Project.
Ingram’s Stonehenge II seems an appropriately mystical setting for such a natural phenomenon, and the Hill Country Arts Foundation will have both parking and limited RV sites, along with food trucks, a beer tent, and “hygiene stations.” The day will end with a performance by Hill Country locals the New Buddy Holly Band.
For Kerrville, it was already going to be a big weekend regardless of the sun and moon. The Welcome Home Festival, a less sprawling event from the Kerrville Folk Festival Foundation, at Quiet Valley Ranch, runs from Friday to Sunday with such artists as Kinky Friedman, Michael Hurley, Kimya Dawson, and Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. During the actual eclipse, on Saturday morning, there will be a “sound bath” with Brooklyn duo the Brother Brothers.
Back in town, there’s also the annual Kerrville River Festival, in Louise Hays Park, with food, family fun on the Guadalupe, and music from The Voice winner Danielle Bradbery. Unlike for April’s eclipse, there’s even camping availability at the city’s Kerrville-Schreiner Park, though not much of it (at press time, only primitive tent sites remained).
San Antonio, 11:52:02 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:19.4
With the entire city as an option for what’s been dubbed the Fiesta del Sol, there are eclipse-viewing opportunities everywhere from Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the DoSeum to Natural Bridge Caverns, the roof of the Hyatt Regency San Antonio Riverwalk, and the San Antonio Zoo.
At San Antonio College’s Scobee Education Center and Planetarium, as many as five thousand people are expected. Thanks to a grant from NASA, SAC has already been doing professional development, education, and training events (including a two-day workshop on September 29 and 30); on the day of, there will be solar telescope viewing and sun spotters, astronomers from elsewhere in the country, representatives from campus science organizations, and, of course, eclipse glasses and pinhole viewers.
Corpus Christi, 11:55:48 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 5:02.1
This is the state’s annular eclipse champion, though the exact spot where you’ll get precisely five minutes and two seconds of annularity is pretty much a highway cloverleaf (where Interstate 37 meets U.S. 181). A nicer location would be Padre Island National Seashore, and Whitecap Beach specifically, though considering it was highlighted by the website Space.com in its roundup of national parks in the path (which was then picked up by the city’s travel website and nearly every Texas media outlet), there might be crowds. But you’ll get four minutes and 52 seconds by the water, starting at 11:56 a.m.
Rockport, 11:56:18 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:31.8
Port Aransas, 11:56:22 a.m.
Time in Annularity/Ring of Fire: 4:53.1
Rockport and Port A are your other options for a fully coastal eclipse. UT’s Marine Science Institute is hosting events at the Patton Center for Marine Science Education, in Port Aransas, and Rockport’s Bay Education Center, with activities and educational presentations (and, of course, viewers) at both sites.
Or if you want to really get out there in nature, how ’bout a little sea kayaking? An organized camping trip to Goose Island State Park with the Houston Association of Sea Kayakers is probably sold out by now (one slot remained as this article was being edited), but there are always the aforementioned day passes.