At The Planetary Society right now, there are 2 groups of people. One group, which includes me, is made up of those who experienced solar eclipse totality on August 21, 2017 and decided it was amazing, spectacular, and groovy. We all have decided we want to see total solar eclipses in the future. The second group are people who missed totality for one reason or another, are tired of the excitement (perceived by some as bragging) of the people in group 1, and who have decided they should make sure they see a total solar eclipse. All have become wannabe eclipse chasers. In case you fall into one of these groups, I’m going to provide some basic information on how to feed your total solar eclipse desires in the coming years.
Totality during the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 as seen from Madras, Oregon. Note the wispy nature of the corona, the outer atmosphere of the sun which is visible only during a total eclipse. Also note the reddish solar prominences (particularly around the 1 o’clock position on the solar disk) caused by bright material being thrown up far above the photosphere (“surface”) of the Sun. Four different exposures from a DSLR camera with a 250mm lens were combined to bring out broader detail in the corona (whose brightness drops off rapidly with distance from the Sun).
Although total solar eclipses, which occur when the Moon completely blocks the view of the Sun, occur every year or two, the challenge is they are geographically localized. So, you either have to get really, really lucky to be in the path of totality, or you have to travel. During a total solar eclipse, partial eclipses, where the Sun is only partially covered by the Moon, are visible over a much wider area. And they are neat. But totality is the thing: for a very few minutes you can see the outer atmosphere of the Sun-the corona, day becomes night, what looks like sunset appears in 360° around you, planets and stars come out, animals act weird, people act weird, and fiery prominences of the Sun can be seen. This is what I experienced with my sons and my brother for the first time outside of Madras, Oregon on August 21. This most natural of things felt incredibly unnatural, and amazing, and glorious, and fabulous...wait, is that bragging? It made all the discomforts of travel, terrible traffic, and lack of sufficient bathrooms in a field in central Oregon all worthwhile. And that’s saying a lot.
So, whether you come at it from a group 1 or group 2 perspective, the next question is when and where are the eclipses to chase? Here is a summary of the 8 upcoming total solar eclipses that occur through the end of the 2020’s and their paths of totality.
July 2, 2019 (S. Pacific, Chile, Argentina)
Most of the path of totality for this eclipse is over the southern Pacific Ocean, passing just north of the Pitcairn Islands, with the end of the eclipse passing through Chile and ending just south of Buenos Aires, Argentina. So the options for viewing totality are basically a ship, or Chile or Argentina. The challenge, particularly as you get into areas near Buenos Aires is that the Sun is setting so will be very low to the horizon. One could view this as a photographic opportunity, but it will make viewing more challenging from those areas. Durations of totality during total solar eclipses vary depending on where the Moon is in its somewhat elliptical orbit at the time of the eclipse. Whereas the 2017 total solar eclipse had a maximum duration of totality of about two and a half minutes, this eclipse will be close to four and a half minutes near the center of the eclipse path. However towards the end of the eclipse when it passes Chile and Argentina, it will be around 2 minutes in duration. This eclipse occurs during the winter, however some locations along the path historically still have relatively sparse cloud cover. (See eclipseophile.com for historical cloud information and weather discussion for the next several eclipses.)
Dec. 14, 2020 (S. Pacific, Chile, Argentina, S. Atlantic)
This total solar eclipse, occurring during late southern spring, happens to pass over a region in Chile and Argentina just a little south of the 2019 eclipse path, but this time the Sun will be high in the sky as seen from those locations. Maximum duration of totality will be about 2 minutes. The path of totality also passes over the South Pacific and South Atlantic oceans, giving opportunities for cruise views or land views.
This will be tricky. The only landfall of the path of totality is over Antarctica. Greatest duration is again around 2 minutes. But probably the only options for viewing will be via aircraft or possibly via ships willing to brave the Southern Ocean.
This is what is known as a hybrid eclipse. That means that along part of the center path of the eclipse, it is a total eclipse, but on the ends of the path, it is an annular eclipse. Annular eclipses occur when the Moon is farther from Earth in its orbit causing the Moon to not completely block out the Sun. During the peak of an annular eclipse an annulus, or ring, of the Sun is visible all the way around the Moon. Though interesting, an annular eclipse is not nearly as dramatic as a total eclipse. There are a few annular eclipses over the next several years that I do not discuss here, but that you can look up if you’re interested. For the 2023 hybrid eclipse, the path of totality passes over East Timor, and islands of eastern Indonesia, and the seas and oceans nearby. The maximum duration of totality is 1 minute and 16 seconds. In my perusal of the interactive Google maps created by NASA for upcoming eclipses I looked at where the path of totality for this eclipse barely crosses the Northwestern corner of Australia, and I found an interesting Random Space Fact. Where the path of totality crosses Australia, for example at Exmouth on the North West Cape peninsula, the duration of totality will be approximately one second. I can’t quite imagine what that would be like.
In 2024, totality returns to North America. The path of totality has landfall at Mazatlán, Mexico. It crosses Mexico and then goes through Texas including Dallas, and works its way through several states to Maine, then crosses eastern Canada. Maximum duration of totality will be about four and a half minutes. April cloudiness may cause problems, particularly in the Northeast.
August 12, 2026 (Greenland, Iceland, N. Atlantic, Spain)
This eclipse begins in north central Russia, passes over the north polar region and Greenland, reaches a greatest duration of 2 minutes and 18 seconds over Western Iceland, then ends in northern Spain low in the sky near Sunset.
August 2, 2027 (N. Atlantic, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Indian Ocean)
This begins over the Atlantic Ocean then moves across very southern Spain and Morocco, and proceeds across North Africa through Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, to the Arabian Peninsula crossing Saudi Arabia and Yemen before crossing Somalia and proceeding out over the Indian Ocean. Greatest duration of totality is particularly long at 6 minutes and 22 seconds occurring in Egypt near Luxor, which would certainly make a spectacular and historically intriguing place from which to observe.
July 22, 2028 (Indian Ocean, Australia, New Zealand, S. Pacific)
This eclipse begins over the Indian Ocean, crossing the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island before reaching a maximum duration of 5 minutes and 9 seconds in northern Australia. It then crosses to eastern Australia, passing directly over Sydney with a duration of about three and a half minutes, and then proceeds across southern New Zealand and into the South Pacific Ocean.
So there you have it, all of the total solar eclipses visible from the surface of the Earth through the end of the 2020s. I hope you are able to go see some and have clear weather. Have fun eclipse chasing!