A view of the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse from Madras, Oregon. Credit: NASA/Gopalswamy
A view of the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse from Madras, Oregon. Credit: NASA/Gopalswamy

Three faculty members from the College of Science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, unveil the mysteries surrounding the solar eclipse and what is to be expected. The upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, offers a unique scientific window to explore solar dynamics and their multifaceted influence on the terrestrial atmosphere and animal behavioral patterns.

Dr. James Miller, Department Chair of Physics and Astronomy, explains that a solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves into a position between the Sun and the Earth, blocking out the Sun's disk. Only the extended parts of the Sun, known as the corona, are visible during a total solar eclipse. Dr. Miller indicates that while total solar eclipses are not inherently rare, their visibility from specific locations on Earth varies. The upcoming eclipse will traverse the northeastern United States, with Carbondale, Illinois, fortunate enough to witness both the 2017 and 2024 eclipses.

NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison; Eclipse Calculations By Ernie Wright, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio/Michala Garrison; Eclipse Calculations By Ernie Wright, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

To witness totality, observers must be within the eclipse's path, typically spanning 60 to 70 miles wide. Dr. Miller advises consulting eclipse maps for precise locations. He also points out the significance of clear skies for optimal viewing conditions, with Texas offering the highest probability of clear skies along the eclipse path.

While Huntsville will witness around 95% coverage, Dr. Miller stresses the crucial need for adequate eye protection during all eclipse phases, such as safe solar viewing glasses or a handheld solar viewer. He suggests utilizing the Solar Eclipse Timer app for precise timing of totality, ensuring a safe and enjoyable viewing experience.

Dr. Kevin Knupp, a professor at the Department of Atmospheric and Earth Science, discusses the scientific implications of the eclipse. Dr. Knupp seeks to investigate the eclipse's impact on weather patterns and animal behavior through the "AGS-FIRP Track 1: Solar Eclipse Effects on Weather and Aerial Fauna (SEEWAF)" project. 

By deploying profiling systems and radar south of Dallas with UAH graduate students, "We'll be measuring temperature, humidity, winds and clouds. Not only at the surface but using our profiling systems, we can make those measurements up to about 30,000 feet altitude," Dr. Knupp reveals. Additionally, radar data will map the activity of birds and insects, providing insights into their behavior during the eclipse.

Dr. Knupp notes that during a solar eclipse, significant atmospheric changes occur. These include temperature decreases near the Earth's surface, resulting in a stable boundary layer. Winds decrease while humidity rises, and clouds often disperse. Totality will last about four minutes and 20 seconds, with the entire eclipse period lasting two to two and a half hours. Researchers start measurements at sunrise, capturing the full impact of these changes.

During a solar eclipse, organisms experience behavioral changes due to the altering light conditions. Dr. Zach Culumber, Assistant Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences, explains that as darkness falls, animals instinctively transition into their nighttime activities; animals respond to environmental cues triggered by changes in light intensity, he says. This shift in light prompts adjustments in physiology, gene expression, and hormone levels, ultimately influencing behaviors like when to find cover for the night or when to come out to search for food.

Across various species, similar responses emerge; birds may seek roosting spots, while nocturnal species like owls become active for foraging. Additionally, animals like deer adjust their activity patterns in response to changing light intensities during an eclipse by possibly coming out to feed, Dr. Culumber expresses.

Dr. Culumber concludes that while eclipse-induced behavioral effects are minimal and short-term, their magnitude depends on the duration and extent of totality. Nonetheless, these transient changes provide valuable opportunities to study animal behavior in response to environmental stimuli.

Through interdisciplinary research and collaborative efforts, scientists aspire to unravel the mysteries of the sun, atmosphere, and animal behavior during this celestial event. 

Next solar eclipses visible in Huntsville:


  • April 2024 -partial
  • Jan 2028 - partial
  • Jan 2029 - partial
  • Nov 2031 - partial
  • August 2045- Total solar visible in Alabama below about Birmingham (about 1.5 hours from Huntsville)