Paul Derrick's Stargazer



Eclipsed Sun showing corona
Of all astronomical phenomena, probably none are as captivating as total eclipses of the Sun, and with good reason. What could be more dramatic than having the Sun briefly disappear during the middle of the day, or more alarming?

Until they figured out what was going on, our ancestors came up with many different explanations, and most didn't view eclipses as good things. Some thought an animal was eating the Sun and had to be frightened off with noise. Others saw eclipses as portends of bad events to come.

We now know total solar eclipses result when the Moon passes exactly between the Earth and Sun, blocking the Sun from view for up to several minutes.

While many have seen total eclipses of the Moon, many have never seen a total solar eclipse. Lunar eclipses are more easily seen because, when the Moon passes through Earth's shadow in a lunar eclipse, the darkened Moon can be seen by everyone on the side of Earth facing the Moon.

But when the Moon passes in front of the Sun, it casts a narrow--on average 100-mile wide--shadow across Earth called the path of totality. The total eclipse is visible only from that narrow path, beyond which only a partial eclipse can be seen. Thus, the occurrence of a total solar eclipse over any given location on Earth is rare, explaining why most have never seen one.

Solar eclipse diagram Lunar eclipse diagram
LEFT: When the Moon passes exactly between the Earth and Sun, the result is a total solar eclipse.
RIGHT: When the entire Moon passes through the shadow of the Earth, the result is a total lunar eclipse.

On average less than one per decade occurs over the lower 48 states. Until Aug. 21, 2017, the last three were in 1979, 1970 and 1963. Between now and the end of the century, there will be 7 more total solar eclipses where the path of totality passes over the lower 48 states: 2024, 2044, 2045, 2052, 2078, 2079, and 2099. That's not a lot, but 2024 is not that far off and should be well worth the wait.


The August 21, 2017, total solar eclipse was the first one I had seen and it was an absolute thrill. The path of totality entered the U.S. in Oregon, moved southeasterly across the heartland, and exited in South Carolina. Its point of maximum duration of 2 minutes and 40 seconds was in western Kentucky. Along with my family we viewed the eclipe from the Prairie Oasis RV Campground and Park near Henderson, Nebraska, where the duration was only 10 seconds less than its maximum. Almost up to the last minute, the skies were touch-and-go, but just in time the clouds cleared in the direction of the Sun and we got a fantastic view. Shortly after the Sun disappeared, our precious 4-year old grandson said to his mom with a bit of concern in his voice: "Is it coming back?"

Family-1 Family-2
LEFT: Family posing while awaiting totality.
RIGHT: Family viewing the parially eclipsed Sun soon before totality


The next one, occuring Apr. 8, 2024, promises to be even better in that its point of maximum duration reaches 4 minutes and 28 seconds in central Mexico. The path of totality enters the U.S. near Eagle Pass, Texas, moves northeasterly, and exits the U.S. in Maine. This one passes directly over my former home in Waco, TX, so all our old Waco friends had better be expecting many guests -- including me and my family. I'll be 83 years old so you know I'll be doing all I can to take care of my health until then.

Path of 2017 total solar eclipse Path of 2024 total solar eclipse
LEFT: Path of the Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse.
RIGHT: Path of the Monday, Apr. 8, 2024, total solar eclipse.

Someone cited only as A. Sinclair has created a great animated diagram showing the path of the 2017 eclipse as it moved across the planet. The tiny black dot is the path of totality from which a totally eclipsed Sun was seen. People in the gray area saw a partial eclipse; the nearer one is to the path of totality, the greater the percentage of the Sun is eclipsed.


This diagram was posted on Wikimedia -- a great site for free-use and public domain materials.

ADDENDUM: There will also be a dramatic annular eclipse of the Sun in October 2023, also passing over Texas west-to-east. I'll post more about that one later.

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