Introduction to Eclipses 

Written by Amber McKnight

An eclipse is a fascinating and awe-inspiring celestial event that has intrigued people for centuries. It occurs when one celestial body moves between two others, blocking the light of one or both. For many people, eclipses hold special meaning beyond their scientific significance. Throughout history, eclipses have been associated with various superstitions and beliefs and interpreted as omens of good or bad fortune. Some cultures believed that eclipses were a sign of the gods’ displeasure or approval, while others saw them as an opportunity for spiritual reflection and renewal.

Despite these interpretations, eclipses remain a fascinating and awe-inspiring phenomenon that inspires wonder and curiosity in people of all backgrounds. Whether you are a scientist studying the mysteries of the universe or a casual observer admiring the beauty of the cosmos, an eclipse is an event that will leave a lasting impression. Here is what you need to know about eclipses.

The different types of eclipses

There are three main types of eclipses: total, partial, and annular. Each type of eclipse is determined by the position and alignment of the Earth, Moon, and Sun.

A total eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun, completely blocking its light and creating a dark shadow on the Earth. During a total solar eclipse, the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, can be seen shining around the edges of the Moon. This type of eclipse is a rare and spectacular event that can only be seen from a specific location on Earth, where the Moon’s shadow falls.

A partial eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in front of the Sun but only blocks a portion of its light. This type of eclipse is visible from a wider area on Earth than a total eclipse but still requires the viewer to be in a specific location to see the partial shadow.

An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun but is too far away to completely block its light. This creates a ring of light around the Moon, giving the appearance of a “ring of fire.” Annular eclipses are rarer than total or partial eclipses, but they are still breathtaking sights to see.

In addition to these three main types of eclipses, there are also hybrid eclipses, which are a combination of a total and annular eclipse. During a hybrid eclipse, the Moon’s shadow appears to change from total to annular or vice versa as it moves across the Earth’s surface.

When Is the Next Eclipse?

The next total solar eclipse will occur on April 8, 2024. This eclipse will be visible in parts of Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The path of totality will start in Mexico, cross the United States from Texas to Maine, and end in Canada. Cities such as Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo, and Montreal will experience the total eclipse.

The 2024 total solar eclipse will be longer than the 2017 eclipse, with a duration of up to 4 minutes and 28 seconds. It will also be the first total solar eclipse visible in the United States since the 2017 eclipse. However, not everyone in North America will be able to see the total eclipse, as it will only be visible along a narrow path. The 2024 total solar eclipse is already generating excitement among scientists, astronomers, and enthusiasts who plan to witness this rare and breathtaking event.

An eclipse is a special event that captures the imagination of people worldwide, both for scientific reasons and for fun. These celestial events offer a unique opportunity to study our solar system and the universe beyond, providing insights into the workings of the cosmos. At the same time, they are also a fascinating and beautiful spectacle to behold, creating an unforgettable experience for all who witness them.

As we await the next solar eclipse in 2024, we hope it will be a special event that brings people together to marvel at the wonders of the universe. Whether you are a scientist, astronomer, or simply a curious observer, there is no denying the magic of an eclipse. So mark your calendars, prepare your telescopes, and get ready to witness one of nature’s most extraordinary events.


We’re Hiring!

Please note: we are no longer accepting applications for educators for the 2023 season.

Penn Dixie Fossil Park & Natural Reserve is a top-ranked destination for science enthusiasts of all ages. With a mission of hands-on science education, we encourage our visitors to learn about the natural world in an outdoors setting. Our programs emphasize natural history — including geology and paleontology, ecology, astronomy, local history, and other STEM fields. We serve 18,000 guests annually, including many who travel across the country to dig our fossils and explore our park.

Educators are the initial connection that visitors have with Penn Dixie. Educators are responsible for introducing Penn Dixie to guests, from admission to departure. The ideal candidate is driven to provide an outstanding learning experience for visitors of all abilities and backgrounds. Educators are expected to be friendly, helpful, and consistently maintain a positive attitude despite the challenge of working outdoors with large groups of visitors. Candidates do not need a formal background in geology or paleontology, but must be willing to learn!

Please note that this position is seasonal and part-time. Educators are needed late April through late October. Flexible start and end dates can be discussed based on an individual’s need (ex. leaving for college). Starting salary is $15 / hour.

Essential Functions

  • Provide tours for guests (various group sizes)
  • Demonstrate enthusiastic and welcome behavior at all times.
  • Greet guests, accept admissions, conduct introductions, guide guests throughout the site.
  • Monitor and enforce safety rules.
  • Ensures cleanliness and organization throughout the site, including, but not limited to, collecting, cleaning and sorting fossils, organizing and filling “fossil grab bags”, garbage pick up, light trail maintenance.
  • Provide excellent customer service and be knowledgeable in Penn Dixie’s science, history, and programming (training provided).
  • Explain and promote Penn Dixie programs, membership, gift shop merchandise, birthday parties, and special events.
  • Respond to guest needs immediately, including issues requiring first aid.

Requirements and Qualifications

  • Documentation of U.S. citizenship or proof of eligibility to work in the U.S.
  • Obtain criminal background check clearance.
  • Ability to work a flexible schedule including weekends, holidays and evenings.
  • Knowledge or interest in science.
  • Proficiency with tablets, smartphones, and various applications.
  • CPR and First Aid certifications (may be provided if employee is not currently certified)
  • Must have your own reliable transportation to/from work.

Experience, Skills and Personal Qualities Required

  • Excellent verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Friendly, positive attitude
  • Comfortable speaking in front of groups
  • Exceptional customer service skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Reliable and punctual
  • Strong teamwork and collaboration skills

Physical Demands

  • Speaking in small and large groups
  • Walking and standing outdoors, sometimes for extended periods
  • Bending/stooping frequently
  • Dealing with highly variable weather conditions
  • Ability to lift/carry up to 40 lbs

Share Your Penn Dixie Finds!

We love seeing what visitors unearth at Penn Dixie! If you have a fossil find that you’d like to share with us, use the form below to submit your picture(s). Although we love fossil finds of all kinds, please only submit Penn Dixie fossils using this page.

Beginner Stargazing Tips

Written by Ernie Jacobs, Lead Astronomer

You can enjoy the night sky from your own backyard. All you need is your eyes and some curiosity. The night sky has something to offer during every season – so dress for the weather and get 0ut there!

To help you get started on your stargazing adventure, print out a Sky Map ( or or use one of the many planetarium apps available for smart devices. To use a Star Chart, orient the direction (North, South, East & West) indicator on the chart for the direction you are looking down, towards the ground. This will indicate the stars in front of you. Rotate the chart accordingly when looking in a different direction. Smart Device apps often have a compass feature which will show you the view of the sky that you are pointing the phone at. Some apps have an augmented Reality (AR) feature which will use the devices camera to superimpose the night sky onto the actual view in the direction that you are pointing the device to. Most apps have a free version and offer upgrades for a fee.

A red flashlight or headlamp is a useful source of illumination for reading printed Sky Maps and navigating your surroundings. Red light is preferred over white light because it helps preserve your night vision. You can read about the effect red vs white light here: Dark Adaptation of the Human Eye and the Value of Red Flashlights. Red flashlights can be purchased online, or you can make them yourself from regular white light flashlights. Here are some ideas for DIYing your own red flashlight:

Sky Map Example

Be aware that what you can see in the night sky changes throughout the year, so be sure the Sky Map you’re referencing is for the right time of year. Pay attention to how the brightest stars appear to move within a single night, from night to night, and from season to season. Once you can find the bright stars, look for the larger patterns they form (asterisms and constellations). The bright stars, asterisms, and constellations will help you orient yourself in the night sky are the keys to finding other objects like the Moon, planets, or even the International Space Station (ISS).

To find out if an ISS pass is visible and the details for viewing the pass, I use the website Heavens Above. Put in your viewing location in the box in the upper right-hand corner of the page. Click on ISS from the list on the main page. This will provide a list of visible passes from your location. Click on pass to get further details, including a handy star chart showing the path of the ISS through the sky.

The International Space Station as of Oct. 4, 2018. Credit: NASA/Roscosmos

My advice to beginner astronomers is to identify the brightest stars visible during a given season and practice finding them. Look at your Star Chart or Planetarium App, the brightest stars are represented with the biggest dots. They are the stars will become visible first as the sky grows dark during twilight and they should punch through most light pollution. Find them with just your eyes first. After finding them by you can practice finding them with a pair of binoculars or telescope if you have them. This a foundational skill that will help you orient yourself with the night sky and find other objects. Practice whenever you go outside and the skies are clear.

In general, the week before and after New Moon is the best time for observing the night sky, unless you’re looking to observe the Moon itself, because this time frame provides the darkest skies. For observing the Moon with optical aid (telescopes and/or binoculars), the best time to look at it is when the Moon is not full. When the Moon is not full craters will have much more depth and contrast. This is especially true near the Terminator, the line between illuminated side and non-illuminated side.

Keep an eye out for meteors too! Meteors are often best viewed between midnight and dawn.

Live in a light polluted area? Try to have polite conversations with your neighbors, perhaps they will shut off an offensive light for a few hours. You can use fences or other structures to shield your eyes from nearby bright lights or try to find a nearby location that has less light pollution. When searching for a darker location, be sure not to trespass and take appropriate safety precautions. If possible, encourage friends, family, and neighbors to install dark sky friendly lighting when adding or replacing outside lights. Light fixtures should direct light downwards where it’s needed and not up towards the sky. Also, turn the lights on only when needed, motion detectors or timers can be really useful for reducing light pollution. Aside from causing reduced visibility for stargazers, light pollution has a negative impact on human health and wildlife. Contact your local Astronomy club or the International Dark Sky association for more information on light pollution.

If you’re a Western New Yorker who’s interested in learning more about astronomy, check out the Buffalo Astronomical Associations’ website for local events and outreach programming throughout the year. Can’t wait for a BAA event to learn more about the skies? This presentation also features information and pictures regarding astronomical objects.

Thinking of buying a telescope? Take a look at this guide for some advice: What Kind of Telescope Should I Get?


Computer Apps:

  • Stellarium (Free and is cross platform)

Smart Device Apps:

  • Sky Safari
  • Sky Guide (iOS only)
  • Star Walk 2
  • Star Chart
  • Sky Map (Android only)
  • Stellarium Mobile
  • Heavens Above (Android only)