How We Celebrated the April Eclipse

7 May 2024

On Monday, April 8, a total solar eclipse swept across North America, from Mexico to Canada. Along the way, it traveled through the Lone Star State, giving Texans a second opportunity to see a solar eclipse within one year – an annular “ring of fire” eclipse was visible on October 14, 2023.

In continuation of its outreach efforts for the annular eclipse, The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory helped the state prepare for April’s eclipse. With help from UT’s Department of Astronomy, we:

  • Published a special edition of StarDate magazine dedicated to the October and April solar eclipses. In total, 9,500 issues of the Eclipse Guide were printed for public distribution September - April.
  • Distributed 136,600 McDonald Observatory solar glasses to the public for safe viewing of the October annular, April total, and future eclipses.
  • Presented about the total eclipse at over 30 outreach events before and on April 8.
  • Held training sessions for educators, community volunteers, and planners interested in hosting their own viewing events. In total, over 200 people attended these trainings and another 420 watched a recording of it online.
  • Led distance learning classes for Texas students, 8,877 of whom registered for the sessions.
  • During the eclipse, broadcast a livestream from within the path of totality. 49,856 tuned in to watch.
  • Provided subject matter expertise to the media by participating in interviews and sharing helpful resources. McDonald Observatory was mentioned 544 times in eclipse coverage from January 1 to April 30, 2024.

Funding from the Abell-Hanger Foundation helped support this work.

An Unforgettable Experience

UT Austin and McDonald Observatory astronomers and staff were present throughout the path of totality to support viewing events and experience totality for themselves. In their own words, the experience was unforgettable!

  • The clouds thinned enough just in time to see totality! Guests were in awe! I was in awe! - Rachel Fuechsl, McDonald Observatory public programs coordinator
  • There were 10 of us (and two corgis) sitting in a cow pasture in the Texas Hill Country. As the crescent of the Sun began to take shape, moments of thinner cloud cover were announced by hollers from a group of campers one field over. The longhorns lay down and settled in for the night around noon. Then: totality. We all cheered, and I remarked, astonished: We have four minutes of this! - Olivia Cooper, UT Austin graduate student
  • The sudden extra darkness when totality started and the sudden getting brighter at the end was like someone flipped a switch. - Anita Cochran, McDonald Observatory assistant director
  • There were lots and lots of people, including families with young kids, around us. What struck me most was how quiet everyone got during totality. - Melanie Rowland, UT Austin graduate student
  • [I enjoyed] seeing the red prominences during totality! I have seen a solar eclipse during solar minimum, and the wispy corona was already gorgeous. I hadn't thought about the fact that I might be able to see other structures during a solar maximum total eclipse! It was an incredible surprise. – Dominique Segura-Cox, UT Austin postdoctoral fellow

Inside the path of totality, UT Austin’s Total Eclipse of the Horns campus viewing event was attended by nearly 70,000 people. The Astronomy Department and McDonald Observatory provided expertise for this event and trained volunteers to lead its solar telescope viewings.

At Austin’s Long Center for the Performing Arts, UT astronomers participated in the Simons Foundation’s “In the Path of Totality” event, which was attended by thousands and included a replica of the McDonald Observatory's Hobby-Eberly Telescope.

Outside the path of totality, McDonald Observatory hosted its own celebration for the partial eclipse. It included solar telescope viewings, educational activities, and demos. Over 100 attended. Joshua Santana, a McDonald Observatory optomechanical engineer who was at the event noted what a pleasure it was connecting with visitors on such a special day, sharing his expertise, and “seeing their excitement.” Stephen Hummel, the Observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative coordinator added, “While only a partial, it was still memorable!”

More Ways to Connect with Astronomy

If April’s eclipse sparked (or confirmed!) an interest in astronomy, we invite you to visit McDonald Observatory in West Texas. The Observatory offers daytime programs, such as tours and solar viewings, as well as evening programs, such as Star Parties and Special Viewing Nights. To stay up to date on Observatory news and programming, consider following us on Instagram, Facebook, and X.

You can also subscribe to McDonald Observatory’s StarDate magazine, which publishes skywatching information and the latest astronomy news six times a year.

We look forward to sharing more astronomical events with you in the future!

Totality, as captured in Dripping Springs, Texas. A V-shaped prominence (loop of plasma) is visible extending from the lower right portion of the Sun. Image credit: John Kormendy. Learn more about this image on the photographer's website.

Eclipse watchers in the path of totality. Image credit: Lindsay House.

View of the partial eclipse as seen through a telescope at McDonald Observatory. Image credit: Cassie Crowe.

McDonald Observatory hosted a viewing event for the partial eclipse. It included solar telescopes, educational activities, and demos. Over 100 attended. Image credit: Stephen Hummel.