Before there was the Great American Eclipse of 2017, there was really nothing much to speak of as far as seeing a solar eclipse from our slice of the world. Not since 1979 did a total solar eclipse touch parts of the lower 48 states. Oh, we’ve had a sliver of partial solar eclipses but not much to speak of, save the 1994 “Great American” Annular Eclipse that crossed upstate New York.
There were other solar eclipses that came close to our backyard only to tease us but the one I remember most fondly was the Christmas Eclipse of December 25, 2000. The Sun was nearly half covered by the Moon. I remember it was easily visible on that cold winter’s day and I recall two of our intrepid observers, Rik Davis and Bruce Kamiat were mentioned in a local paper, the Daily News: https://www.nydailynews.com/archives/news/holiday-show-heaven-rare-eclipse-draws-crowds-article-1.879652.
Kamiat recalls they were given about five minutes on a major network news station. It was of interest, he says, because in “the spirit of giving”, they (Kamiat and a few others) were giving their time to fellow New Yorkers on Christmas Day to experience this wonderful event at Turtle Pond in Central Park, Manhattan. Another observer, Charlie Ridgway had a plate of No. 14 welders’ glass that he lent to the TV crew to photograph the eclipse for TV!
For the most part, one must travel far to see a solar eclipse of any kind, especially a total eclipse. Unlike lunar eclipses, which are a hemispheric event that can be seen over large parts of our globe, a total or annular eclipse’s shadow cone traverses a narrow path of land and sea. Meteorologist and adventurer eclipse chaser Joe Rao notes that since this country’s formation the dark shadow cone of a total solar eclipse has swept across parts of the contiguous 48 states only 21 times. He notes, “The average duration of totality for all twenty-one cases comes out to be 2 minutes 12 seconds. For the eclipse of August 21, 2017, the maximum duration of totality lasted 2 minutes 40 seconds, which was nearly a half minute longer than the US average.”
But happy days are on the way for the North American continent and for us on the East Coast. In less than three years, on April 8, 2024, residents of New York State will experience a total solar eclipse for the first time in 99 years. It was in 1925 that a total solar eclipse over northern New York City and the great Mars opposition of the preceding year generated a phenomenal amount of interest in astronomy. As Patrick Rizzo wrote in his excellent 1967 Eyepiece article, “The hub for a great amount of this excitement was the American Museum of Natural History. An idea of having a planetarium/astronomical center at the museum and a call for organizing an astronomical society brought our club, the Amateurs Astronomers Association into being in 1927.
The Total Solar Eclipse of 2024 (TSE 2024) maximum duration of totality will last as long as 4 minutes and 26 seconds (over southwest Texas) as noted by Rao— “That’s 135 seconds longer than the US average and 40 percent longer than the maximum duration of the 2017 eclipse.”
So you may want to start planning for the next Great American Eclipse now! In the NYC area it will be fine to see, but the Sun will only be 90% eclipsed. You really want to be in the path of totality. It’s the difference of being outside a ballpark and listening to the crowd roar or being at your seat inside and cheering the home team’s grand slam! You could easily drive upstate to the Adirondack Mountain Park, hopefully with clear skies, to experience totality! Those watching north of Lake Placid will experience 3 minutes and 25 seconds’ worth. Niagara Falls might be nice photo-op spot to observe this eclipse.
Maybe we should call TSE 2024, the Great North American Eclipse, as its path touches all three major continental countries. Most may be wanting to go to Mexico or Texas for greatest chance of clear skies to ensure they experience totality!
June Solar Eclipse: Annular for Some, Partial for Most
But no need to wait as we will get to experience a solar eclipse very soon, this June— an adequately deep partial on Thursday the 10th. Will a not-too-shabby 72% obscured Sun be enough to get the attention of busy New Yorkers hustling by in the city? Canadians in Ontario will experience an annular eclipse, or Ring of Fire as seen through a properly filtered telescope. But unfortunately, only the less populated sections of the province will be in the path, such as the Hudson Bay area and Polar Bear Park. Yikes!
Unlike a total eclipse, an annular is not completely covered by the Moon, so a small percentage of the Sun’s light seeps through but is still so intensely brilliant that your eyes need protection. An annular is really a glorified partial eclipse or a lunar transit, much like the transit of Venus. Canadians and tourists alike won’t necessarily need to be in the path, just near enough to give the observer a very deep partial.
Jupiter’s Mutual Moon Eclipse Extravaganza!
The beginning of 2021 marked the mutual eclipse event season of Jupiter’s four large moons, when they eclipse each other in short period intervals. This happens every six years because the orbital moon plane of Jupiter nicely lines up “edge on” with the Earth-Sun plane. This enables one moon’s shadow to touch another, producing eclipses that could never be experienced here on Earth. Such is the price for only having one Moon. The eclipse season is short, ending after November 16th. At least you don’t have to travel far to view these eclipses— you need only take your telescope out to the nearest street corner, park, or backyard.
Lunar Eclipse Note: A total lunar eclipse happens May 26th but will not be visible from the New York City metropolitan area. You would need to travel further west, but it’s best seen from California, Hawaii or parts of southern Alaska. There will be a better lunar eclipse for East Coast viewing in November.
“A History of the First Forty Years of the Amateur Astronomers Association”, by Patrick Rizzo: https://www.aaa.org/
Sky & Telescope: March, 2021 issue.