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Total Eclipses of the Sun

occurrence - total eclipses seen - eclipse trivia - future eclipses

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Introduction

A Total Eclipse of the Sun is spectacular.

Anybody who has experienced nature's most awesome and unusual phenomenon never forgets it. We have met people who have seen total eclipses by accident and their reaction is always one of amazement.

Although the entire eclipse can last for a couple of hours, the spectacular total phase lasts only for a few minutes. The maximum duration of totality is just over seven and a half minutes. For any one location, total eclipses of the sun occur rarely; on average, once every 410 years or so. In our home city, London, the last two total eclipses of the Sun occurred in the years 878 and 1715; the next is not due until 2151! In a larger area, they are more common. For England, the last was in 1999 and the next in 2090.

For the Earth as a whole, total solar eclipses occur roughly seven or eight times every ten years. If we are to see one we must travel. Kryss has now experienced thirteen; Talaat ten. Two of those were clouded out but were still worth being present for.


Occurrence and Types of Eclipses

Total Eclipses of the Sun occur when the Moon passes in front of the Sun blocking out its light for a few minutes. The sky darkens, the air cools, birds and animals react, and unusual colours bathe the landscape. Because they occur so infrequently, the event is a new and unknown experience for the local people. The reactions of a community awaiting an eclipse are part of the interest for us.

Professional astronomers arrive at a site, prepare their equipment, observe the eclipse and leave. Unlike them, we like to be there at least a week before to feel the mounting excitement. Kryss always enjoys buying eclipse t-shirts and now has quite a collection.

The path of totality is a long narrow strip, usually less than 200km wide. It snakes a third of the way around the globe. Usually less than 1% of the Earth's surface is bathed by the shadow, or umbra, which most often passes over sea or uninhabited land. Only observers within this narrow band will experience totality.

Outside the path of totality, a partial eclipse is visible. Partial eclipses are less interesting, with little to see. Even if an eclipse is 99%, the spectacular phenomena of Totality will not be seen.

Fred Espenak (in association with NASA) supplies information and maps of these paths of totality. We use these as our travel brochures!

There are four types of solar eclipses.

When the Moon's shadow misses the Earth but passes very close to it, only a Partial eclipse is visible. These types of eclipse tend to be visible away from the tropics.

When the Moon's shadow hits the Earth and the Moon is close to the Earth, then a Total eclipse is visible along the narrow path of Totality. (A Partial eclipse occurs on either side of the path of Totality). For a Total eclipse, the Moon can appear to be as much as 6.5% larger than the Sun. The maximum duration of Totality is 7m 31s. Eclipses over seven minutes long are rare; only three occurred during the 20th Century and none will happen in the 21st Century. Longer eclipses tend to occur nearer the tropics.

When the Moon's shadow hits the Earth but the Moon is far from the Earth, it will not be large enough to cover the Sun completely. A ring of Sun remains around the Moon. This ring-shaped partial eclipse is called an Annular Eclipse (from annulus the Latin for ring). At its most extreme, the Moon can be 10.9% too small to cover the Sun. The maximum duration of Annularity is 12m 30s.

A Hybrid Eclipse is where the Moon is at such a distance that the eclipse is Annular in some areas and Total in other areas. The duration is usually very short for these types of eclipses.

In any calendar year there must be TWO solar eclipses and there can be as many as FIVE. Less than half will be Total. The table below shows all Solar Eclipses occurring between 2000 and 2020. The next ten Total eclipses are described in detail below.

Year Total Annular Hybrid Partial
2000      4
2001 1 1   
2002 1 1   
2003 1 1   
2004      2
2005   1 1 
2006 1 1   
2007      2
2008 1 1   
2009 1 1   
2010 1 1   
2011      4
2012 1 1   
2013   1 1 
2014   1  1
2015 1    1
2016 1 1   
2017 1 1   
2018      3
2019 1 1  1
2020 1 1   


The Saros

All types of eclipses occur when the Sun, Moon and Earth are in almost exact alignment. Their motions are such that they almost repeat after approximately 18 years 11 days and 8 hours. This period is known as the Saros.

If an eclipse occurs, a similar one will happen after one Saros. The long total solar eclipse eclipse of 11 July 1991 is followed by another on 22 July 2009. The extra 8 hours of the Saros period allows the Earth to spin a third of its daily rotation, a turn of 120 degrees. This means that the 1991 eclipse was total in the Eastern Pacific and the Americas but the 2009 eclipse will be total in Eastern Asia and the Western Pacific, 120 degrees to the West. Eclipses related in this way are said to belong to a Saros Series.

The repeat of the Sun, Moon and Earth every Saros is not exact, however. The path of totality moves either north or south. Given enough time the location of the eclipse slowly drifts and will eventually leave the Earth. Each eclipse belongs to a Saros Series which is given a number. As an example we will examine the properties of Saros Series number 139.

Saros Series 139 began on 17 May 1501 with a small partial eclipse visible over one of the northern polar regions. The Moon's umbra missed the Earth but passed close enough for a small partial eclipse (covering 9.1% of the Sun) to be visible. The next eclipse in the Saros Series occured 18 years 11 days and 8 hours later. The Moon's umbra passed closer to the Earth than the previous eclipse but still not close enough to produce a total eclipse. It was a slightly bigger partial eclipse (23.5%) at the same pole on 28 May 1519.

Each successive eclipse was partial but of increasing magnitude. Eventually after seven partial eclipses, the umbra hit the Earth producing a hybrid eclipse around the same northern polar region on 11 August 1627. The duration of totality was very short: 0m 01s. The type of eclipse depends on how far the Moon is from the Earth and at this time the Moon was too far to make a purely total eclipse.

Saros number 139 continued with each successive eclipse moving closer to the equator and with the Moon moving closer to the Earth. This produced a series of 12 hybrid eclipses, the final one on 9 December 1825. The duration of totality was 1m 34s. The next eclipse (21 December 1843) was total along its entire path (duration 1m 43s). The eclipses continued moving south towards the equator and getting longer.

On 18 March 1988, the 28th eclipse of the series occured in the Pacific Ocean. A totality of 3m 22s (from a maximum of 3m 46s) was observed by Kryss in the Philippines. The 29th eclipse of the series occured on 29 March 2006 across Africa and Eurasia and was seen by Kryss and Talaat from Turkey.

On 13 June 2132 the middle eclipse of Saros 139 will occur. The duration will be 6m 55s. After this the successive eclipses will cross into the southern hemisphere. They will continue to increase in length until 16 July 2186 when totality will last for 7m 29s, only two seconds short of the maximum theoretical length. This Saros will produce five eclipses longer than seven minutes.

The total eclipses continue to move south but now decrease in length. The final total eclipse of the series will occur on 26 March 2601. After that there will be nine partial eclipses in the southern polar regions ending with a small partial eclipse of 5.8% ocurring on 3 July 2763.

Saros 139 began on 17 May 1501 and will end on 3 July 2763. It will last 1262 years and produce 71 eclipses comprising 43 totals, 12 hybrids and 16 partials.

As of 2011 there are 40 solar Saros series active. The latest (Saros 156) began on 1 July 2011. Saros 117 will end on 3 August 2054.


Total Solar Eclipses Seen / Experienced

This table summarises the Total Eclipses of the Sun that have been seen or experienced by Kryss Katsiavriades.

Eclipse
Click here to read report and see photos
Date and Location
Red for totality completely clouded out
Duration
of
Totality
Length
of
Trip
Countries
Visited
Eclipse country in bold
Uganda 2013
3 November 2013 : Pokwero Village near Pakwach, Uganda.

"As the air cooled with the advancing eclipse, the large cloud shrivelled away and out came the Sun, bathing the landscape with the distinctive golden hues of a pre-totality eclipsed Sun. It was now obvious that we were going to have an unobstructed view of totality....."

0m 22s 2
weeks
Uganda
Qatar
Australia 2012
14 November 2012 : Machans Beach near Cairns, Australia.

"The Moon's shadow enveloped the clouds over the sea and turned the sky a deep blue. The presence of a rogue cloud below the eclipsed Sun diverted the light of the corona upwards and made it into a cone...."

2m 03s 7
weeks
China
Australia
Cloudy China 2009
22 July 2009 : Jinshan Beach near Shanghai, China.

"We had a group of twenty, we had the sea, we had clear horizons. The only thing missing was the Sun...."

5m 54s
Cloud
2.5
weeks
China
Russia 2008
1 August 2008 : Staribirsk Beach at Berdsk, Siberian Russia.

"The view of the eclipsed Sun with the two planets over the water was outstanding and a complete justification for the choice of viewing location..."

2m 19s 2
months
Russia
Kazakhstan
Kyrgyzstan
Tajikistan
Uzbekistan
Turkey 2006
29 March 2006 : Temple of Apollo at Side, Turkey.

"The darkening was now more rapid, more dramatic. The sky was so blue it was almost purple. Behind the temple there was a reddening of the sky as the Moon's shadow approached at over 800 metres per second..."

3m 45s 2
weeks
Turkey
Botswana 2002
4 December 2002 : The Kasane to Nata Road, Botswana.

"So much happening - so little time. A mere 1 minute and 14 seconds to see, marvel at, and absorb the wonders of the corona, the prominances, the three planets, the dark sky, the red sunset glow all around. And all the time changing as the Moon's shadow rushes past at half a kilometer per second..."

1m 14s 3
weeks
Zimbabwe
Zambia
Botswana
Namibia
South Africa
Zimbabwe 2001
21 June 2001 : By the River Ruya in Maname Village, northern Zimbabwe.

"Suddenly the light from the dimmed Sun became a point as the Moon covered the final sliver. The point lingered for an instant before flickering out like a candle. Darkness descended like a shroud as the Sun's Corona flashed into view dotted with pink flame-like Prominances. Totality had begun. Jupiter could be seen close to the Sun...."

3m 20s 3
weeks
South Africa
Zimbabwe
Zambia
Kenya
Tanzania
Cloudy England 1999
11 August 1999 : A cliff overlooking the ruins of Wheal Coates tin mine near St Agnes in Cornwall, England.

"The 1999 eclipse was to be the only one visible in my own country during my life time. Eastern Turkey or Iran were expected to have the best weather but I had dreamt about seeing the eclipse in Cornwall since I was 12 years old...."

1m 54s
Cloud
1
week
UK (England)
Venezuela 1998
26 February 1998 : The beach at El Pico on the Venezuelan peninsula of Paraguana.

"The soldier told us we could not pass without a permit. We had travelled thousands of kilometres. Our eclipse site, a quiet deserted beach, was a few hundred meters further on. Behind us was a beach overflowing with noise, crowds, cars and vendors...."

3m 44s 4
months
Venezuela
Brazil
Argentina
Paraguay
Uruguay
India 1995
24 October 1995 : A ridge near the tiny village of Khanua in the Indian state of Rajastan.

"The sun rose over a timeless rural scene of India. The young men of the village began arriving. They sat on the ridge and watched. They had not come to see the eclipse but to watch us...."

0m 54s 2
weeks
India
Chile 1994
3 November 1994 : A hilltop on the Zapahuira plains in Chile's Lauca National Park.

"All was still, cool and quiet. There was not a sound from the people below. However much they had read or had been told about the eclipse, nothing had prepared them for the strange reality. Even the insects had stopped chirping...."

2m 55s 12
months
Chile
Bolivia
Peru
Ecuador
Colombia
Panama
Costa Rica
Nicaragua
Honduras
El Salvador
Guatemala
Belize
Mexico
Mexico 1991
11 July 1991 : A ridge near the village of Santiago in the south of the Mexican peninsula of Baja California.

"It reminded us of the story of the Passover. As we watched, the clouds over the distant hills turned grey, then black. The hills themselves then turned dark. Moments later, the valley was plunged into darkness...."

6m 52s 5
months
USA
Mexico
Belize
Guatemala
Philippines 1988
18 March 1988 : The city hall roof of General Santos City on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

"In the West, I could see it getting darker as the Moon's shadow approached at nearly a kilometre per second. The horizon was turning red as the sky turned a deep blue...."

3m 18s 15
months
Philippines
Japan
South Korea
Taiwan
Hong Kong
China
Macao
Thailand
India
Java 1983
11 June 1983 : A children's playground on the beach at the village of Tuban on the Indonesian island of Java.

"The trip had consisted of three minibuses, two buses, a colt, a horse and cart, a bemo, a lorry, a becak and a motorbike. I had made it to the centre line...."

5m 09s 6
months
Sri Lanka
Singapore
Indonesia
Malaysia
Thailand
Burma
Nepal
India
Pakistan
Eclipse Successes   
12 out of 14
Duration of Totality Seen   
35m 55s
Duration of Totality Not Seen   
7m 48s


Future Solar Total Eclipses

Maps and summaries of the next ten total eclipses of the Sun and some eclipse facts and figures.


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KryssTal Related Pages

A table of the solar eclipses seen by Kryss Katsiavriades.

A series of thought provoking essays on astronomy including a monthly sky page for the UK.

More travel stories and photos from around the world can be found here.


External Eclipse Links

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Fred Espenak (NASA)
Past and future eclipses - reports, maps and information from NASA's Fred Espenak. This is the best place to obtain eclipse information and maps.

Live@Exploratorium
A fascinating eclipse and astronomy site with excellent historical accounts of eclipses and contributions from eclipse chasers.

Eclipse Glasses
Small or large amounts of CE approved eclipse glasses as used by the BBC.

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