It may sound like a broken record. Ever since 1974 I’ve been urging, begging, cajoling Night Sky readers and my students to experience the greatest spectacle the human eye can behold.
Sure, a major display of the Northern Lights is not chopped liver. And if you’ve ever seen an exploding meteor, you’ve never forgotten it. There are all sorts of earthly destinations that travel writers insist should not be missed. I love them too, having spent five years of my life overseas. If you’ve seen the Great Pyramids, Machu Picchu, the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal, the Atacama Desert, the Himalayas and maybe even rented a houseboat on Lake Powell, is there any sight that can top all these?
Yes. A total solar eclipse.
Not a lunar eclipse. And certainly not a partial solar eclipse. After the totality in August 2017 in places like Wyoming, I returned to find a bunch of correspondence from people who’d seen the partial eclipse that had been visible everywhere. Folks sent their photographs showing the Sun as a sliver, looking like a crescent Moon.
I’m afraid I was rude. I did not reply saying, “That’s a great photo you took!” Instead, I sent condolence messages: “I’m so sorry you missed totality. Next time, really try to see one.”
This is my tenth time leading groups to solar totalities: Egypt, Australia, eastern India, Romania – it started in 1970, when I was fresh out of college. Thanks to extraordinary good luck or blessings, our groups were clouded out of none of them. My good fortune must end sometime, and I hope it won’t be this coming week.
This time the path of totality runs through Chile, through a part of that country I go to every single year anyway – so it’s kind of a neighborhood event, except now there will be international crowds and maybe even traffic jams. We have secured a private mountaintop observatory just for our group of 40 people. The weather prospects this time are about 50/50. If I could press a button so that the group sees the eclipse, but I miss it, I would certainly do it.
This is the only celestial event that makes people weep. Happens every time: not every person, but some of them. You see flames leaping from the Sun’s edge. You watch the Moon discernibly moving in its orbit, like in a sci/fi movie. You see the Sun’s atmosphere, its corona, displaying intricate filamentary structure as it splays far across the sky, making visible the Sun’s awesome magnetic field, the largest structure in the solar system. Stars come out. It’s all too much.
Since you’re reading this, I assume you’re not going to Chile. But perhaps you’re wondering where the next few total solar eclipses can be observed. You probably know you can’t just stay at home and wait for one to come to you; for any given location, they only happen every 360 years on average. Here in the Kingston/Saugerties/Woodstock/New Paltz region, we’ve beaten the odds: We had one under clear skies on June 16, 1806, then saw another in cloudless conditions on January 24, 1925. Beating the odds once again, our region does not have to wait the normal 360 years, but will get the next on May 1, 2079.
Our kids may see that one. For the rest of us, here’s what happens the next five years:
The next totality after this week’s event will occur on December 14, 2020 in Patagonia. I think there may be two places left in that almost-sold-out tour: Go to https://specialinteresttours.com and check it out. After that, the next happens on December 4, 2021, but the Moon’s shadow falls exclusively in the Antarctic – a tough eclipse with dismal weather prospects, and we may pass on it.
There are no solar totalities in 2022. Then we’ve got April 20, 2023 in the sea off Australia and Bali; yes, we have arranged a private ship for that. And that brings us to April 8, 2024, when the moon’s shadow will sweep across Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Burlington and then across New Hampshire. You can drive to that one – although we’ve reserved six yachts sailing off Mazatlán, where the sky is most likely to be clear.
That’s the story for the next five years. Please do it!
Want to know more? To read Bob’s previous columns, click here. Check out Bob’s podcast, Astounding Universe, co-hosted by Pulse of the Planet’s Jim Metzner.