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Do you have to wait 400 years to see a total solar eclipse?

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Do you have to wait 400 years to see a total solar eclipse?

Not unless you don’t mind doing some traveling.  On average, a total solar eclipse is visible about every 18 months somewhere on the Earth’s surface.  That’s an average of two total eclipses every three years.

Unfortunately, the tracks of total solar eclipses seem to have this perverse habit of occurring over sparsely populated regions of the Earth or out over the open oceans.

In 2015 for instance, in order to see a total eclipse of the Sun you’ll need to travel to the North Pole!  And even though a typical eclipse track can run for several thousand miles or more, the width of that track is likely to be less than 100 miles.  So, the odds are, that any one particular spot on the Earth will have to wait a very long time — nearly 400 years (actually 375 to be precise) — between total solar eclipses.

But that nearly four-century wait is merely a statistical average.  Indeed, the paths of different eclipses sometimes will crisscross over a specific place, so in some cases the wait isn’t as long.  For example: a forty-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast of Angola, just north of Lobito, experienced a total solar eclipse on June 21, 2001, and was treated to another in December of 2002, a wait of less than 18 months.

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On the other extreme, we can cite the case of the islands of Bermuda.  Their last total eclipse was on August 30, 1532, with the next one scheduled for February 16, 2352!

Take heart in this piece of news: three years from now, on August 21, 2017, the path of a total eclipse of the Sun will stretch across the U.S. from the coast of Oregon to South Carolina. Mark your calendars.

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1 jayfromcleveland { 05.09.14 at 12:37 pm }

There will be two total solar eclipses over the USA over the next 10 years, in 2017 and 2024, and the central paths of these eclipses will both fall north of the confluence of the Ohio River into the Mississippi, over towns including Carbondale, Illinois and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. So people in these locations will not have to wait 400 years.

2 Sally Neel { 05.09.14 at 9:03 am }

It will likely rain in Tennessee, too.

3 Stephen Bradley { 05.07.14 at 10:17 am }

It will probably rain in Kentucky on August 21, 2017.

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