partial eclipse in a cloudy sky

Getty Images

On April 8, a total eclipse—the rare event when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, completely blocking its face for a few minutes—will be visible across a swath of U.S. states, including parts of Western New York. For those contemplating a road trip, this is the last chance to see a total eclipse in the United States until 2044. While New York City isn't within the path of totality this time, a partial eclipse will begin here at 2:10 p.m. that day, and the sun will be about 90% covered by about 3:25 p.m. To help the NYU community make the most of this awe-inspiring experience, the NYU News team spoke with a variety of experts on eye safety, photography, animal behavior, physics, and more. NYUers can pick up certified eclipse glasses on campus on Monday and follow @nyuniversity on Instagram for additional resources and fun as we document the big day.

Eclipse 101


Hazy on the facts about how an eclipse happens, and the differences between a total and a partial one? Start with this primer from Tandon Applied Physics Department Chair John Di Bartolo to learn how long it will take for another full eclipse to impact the region and what ancient cultures belived was happening to the disappearing sun.  

Here's Why You Need Serious Eye Protection to Look at the Sun During an Eclipse


NYU Langone opthalmologist Nitish Mehta has seen solar retinopathy—the damage to the eye caused by looking directly at the sun without protection—firsthand, including in the days after the last eclipse in 2017. Unfortunately, changes in vision due to this type of damage tend to be permanent. But the good news is that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the eclipse safely, including by building a pinhole camera for indirect viewing or using certified eclipse glasses to take a quick peek. Dr. Mehta recommends checking the American Astronomical Society's list of approved vendors to make sure your glasses are authentic. Just make sure to keep them on the entire time you're viewing the eclipse.   

—Video by Jonathan King and Carly Thompson

Glasses and Viewing Parties on Campus

NYU will be distributing certified eclipse-viewing glasses (while supplies last) at Schwartz Plaza, Kimmel, and the Paulson Center at 12 p.m. on Monday. Glasses will also be available at NYU Tandon’s Solar Eclipse Viewing Party from 3–4 p.m., at the Brooklyn Commons.

How To Build a Pinhole Camera to View the Eclipse Indirectly


A the tiny hole in a pinhole camera (also known as a camera obscura) acts as a lens that projects an image of the sun onto another surface, allowing you to view the eclipse safely with the sun at your back. Tisch photography student Max Ruibal showed us how to make one using a cardboard box, aluminum foil, and a white sheet of paper. NASA also offers instructions.

—Video by Jonathan King

What To Expect From Birds and Other Wildlife During the Eclipse

bird sitting on a tree branch

Photo by Rafael Baez-Segui

Almost all creatures on Earth organize their routines around the sun, whether they’re diurnal animals that are up and moving during the day—like birds, honeybees, elephants, and humans—or nocturnal ones—like bats, owls, and roaches—that are more active after dark.

Even organisms that live in caves or deep in the ocean can sometimes detect enough differences in light and warmth to experience changes over a 24-hour cycle, explains Valentina Alaasam, an NYU biology postdoctoral researcher who studies circadian rhythms in birds.

“Circadian rhythms are one of the most well-conserved traits across the tree of life, and the genetic machinery that goes into these kinds of rhythms is actually very similar across different species,” she says. That makes sense when you consider that while climate and habitats have changed dramatically over millions of years of evolution, the sun has been a constant.

Valentina Alaasam

Valentina Alaasam

“Of all the things animals have to orient themselves, the sun is the most consistent cue,” Alaasam says.

Well…until it isn’t. So what do animals do when the sun does something unexpected, like abruptly disappear midday during a total eclipse?

Alaasam’s dissertation looked at how birds respond to light pollution, which alters the expected mix of brightness and darkness in a different way. And she says that while the glow from cities has a human cause, animals are already highly attuned and able to adapt to similar shifts caused by natural phenomena such as the cycles of the moon.

These relatively subtle changes don’t fundamentally disrupt circadian rhythms the way laboring all night under sun-like lighting—which has been shown to have significant health impacts for graveyard shift workers—might.

“If you're something that gets hunted at night and there’s a full moon, you want to be aware that you’re more visible,” she says. “Or if you’re something that forages, maybe you take advantage of the extra light and stay up a little later. Having quick and flexible responses to these types of temporary variations in ambient light can be advantageous.”

bird iin tree hollow at sunset

Photo by Rafael Baez-Segui

Eclipses are rare enough that scientists don’t have a lot of data about what happens when the reverse occurs and there’s darkness during the daytime, but based on her research, Alaasam expects something like the opposite of the full moon effect, with diurnal animals becoming less active and nocturnal animals stirring and starting to wake up.

But the “total” part of the total eclipse on April 8 will only last about six minutes. Is that really enough time to make the birds think it’s time for bed?

Because of their unique anatomy, with thin bones for flying and pineal glands—which secrete hormones related to sleep and wakefulness—on the top of the brain, birds can actually sense light right through their skulls, Alaasam explains. And in her work with birds in captivity, she’s noticed that it doesn’t take a prolonged period of darkness for them to switch into night mode. “As soon as I shut the lights off, they just stop moving,” she says, in part to avoid injury due to poor eyesight in the dark.

After the 2017 total eclipse, which passed through 14 U.S. states, there were reports of fireflies flashing and unusual rodent activity during the daytime. Nature writer Annie Dillard’s classic essay about the 1979 eclipse as viewed from the Yakima River Valley in central Washington State describes people screaming at the moment when the moon blocked out the sun.

The 2024 path of totality from Texas to Maine offers another chance to add more anecdotes to the record. “I would imagine that it would be pretty dramatic, especially if you’re viewing it in an area where there’s a lot of wildlife,” Alaasam says.

“The birds are going to get very, very quiet.”

—Eileen Reynolds

Even More Eclipse Resources

NYU Libraries has put together a guide to events, workshops, Citizen Science projects, groups, and library-subscribed resources related to the 2024 solar eclipse.