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Shadow Our Earth

by Perry Pezzolanella

Shadow our Earth with Moon shadows. There are four types of solar eclipses, and no two eclipses are exactly alike. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon aligns between the Sun and Earth. The Moon can cast a shadow onto the Earth, but we do not live in a perfect universe. If we did, there would be total solar eclipses every month. The Moon does not orbit the Earth along the equator but is inclined 5º to the ecliptic. This means that the moment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth’s perfect alignment only happens twice a year just short of six months apart. Also, the Moon does not orbit the Earth at a constant distance; therefore, not all solar eclipses are total. Since the Earth is tilted 23½º on its axis, an eclipse cannot be seen at the same location every time.

A total solar eclipse occurs where the dark shadow of the Moon, called the umbra, touches the Earth’s surface. If the Moon is unusually close to Earth, totality can last from five minutes to a maximum of 7 minutes 32 seconds. Most total eclipses last from two to five minutes. If the Moon is too far away from the Earth, the dark shadow cone cannot reach the ground, and will result in an annular eclipse. Consequently, the Moon cannot completely cover the Sun as seen from the surface so a thin ring of sunlight will appear around the dark new moon. Most annular eclipses last from three to seven minutes, but as long as 12 minutes 29 seconds if the Moon is unusually far from Earth. The third type of eclipse is the rare hybrid solar eclipse. It happens when the eclipse begins as an annular eclipse near the sunrise point and becomes total as the eclipse progresses across the near surface of the Earth when the dark shadow just touches it midway across its trek around local noon before becoming annular again as it leaves Earth’s curved surface near the sunset point. The fourth type is a strictly partial solar eclipse when the Sun, Moon, and Earth line-up is sloppy. The dark shadow cone barely misses the Earth, and we only see a crescent Sun, or a notch taken from it.

With many going on an adventure to see the total solar eclipse of the Sun hardly an hour away from here in Upstate New York, it might seem that the best astronomical event of our lives has arrived. Unless it is cloudy, that will indeed be true, but if this eclipse is successful, we will be longing to see another. Unless we are willing to travel abroad to exotic places, we have no choice but to wait until the next big one in the U.S. in 2045. Utica and this region in general, will be amply rewarded with many partial solar eclipses in the decades ahead. Some will be only a tiny notch bitten out of the Sun, but a few will be awesome crescents. Here are the circumstances for each solar eclipse locally until 2060 when this author turns 100:

•March 29, 2025 – The Sun rises 23% eclipsed at sunrise at 6:48 A.M. and ends 21 minutes later. This is a strictly a partial eclipse with the maximum of 94% occurring on the far northeast shore of Hudson Bay.

•August 12, 2026 – A total solar eclipse will cross the North Pole and Greenland. The best we will see is a 12% eclipsed Sun at 1:46 P.M.

•January 26, 2028 – An annular solar eclipse crosses South America and the Atlantic Ocean. Barely 2% of the southern edge of the Sun will be eclipsed at 10:07 A.M.

•January 14, 2029 – Another frigid mid-Winter eclipse, but this one is worth watching with 46% of the Sun obscured at 12:12 P.M. This is strictly a partial eclipse with the maximum of 73% over the Canadian Arctic.

•March 30, 2033 – The top portion of the Sun will be about 5% eclipsed at 2:01 P.M. as a total solar eclipse crosses Alaska and the Arctic.

•January 5, 2038 – A double header year of solar eclipses starts off with the Sun rising at 7:35 A.M. 28% eclipsed as annularity crosses the Atlantic Ocean from Cuba to Africa.

•July 2, 2038 – Hardly 3% of the Sun will be eclipsed at 8:24 A.M. and will be more of a curiosity as annularity crosses the Atlantic Ocean from northern South America into the heart of Africa.

•June 21, 2039 – Another slight eclipse with barely 4% of the top portion of the Sun eclipsed at 1:19 P.M. as annularity crosses the Arctic from Alaska through Greenland into Norway.

•November 4, 2040 – Finally an eclipse that will look like a crescent if the November weather cooperates. The Sun will appear 59% eclipsed at 2:07 P.M. This eclipse is strictly partial with the Sun 75% eclipsed at best off the west coast of Greenland.

•August 12, 2045 – Nobody will stay in Utica and settle for a partial eclipse when the best total solar eclipse of the century crosses North America and will be the known as the ultimate Great American Eclipse. It arrives in northern California and crosses Nevada, Utah, Colorado (with Fruita experiencing around 5 minutes 7 seconds of totality!), Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida where totality will peak at 6 minutes 6 seconds not far from Walt Disney World (6 minutes 3 seconds at Epcot)! Around 46% of the lower portion of the Sun will be eclipsed in Utica at 1:21 P.M.

•June 11, 2048 – This eclipse has the thinnest and best crescent of them all during the time-period covered in this article with the Sun 76% eclipsed at 7:27 A.M. This eclipse mimics the one from seen here on June 10, 2021, but is much higher as annularity begins at sunrise in Colorado and races northeast across the northern Great Lakes and south of James Bay, across eastern Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and into Norway.

•November 24, 2050 – About 11% of the Sun will be eclipsed as it rises and is strictly a partial eclipse with the maximum of 83% occurring near Iceland.

•March 30, 2052 – Totality will cross the Florida Panhandle and into Georgia and over Savannah with about 2 minutes 45 seconds of totality. The Sun will be 68% eclipsed here at 3:36 P.M.

•January 27, 2055 – The Sun will be 25% eclipsed at 1:31 P.M. with the maximum eclipse of 69% occurring over the Yukon.

•July 1, 2057 – The final partial eclipse of this series is a good one with the Sun 54% eclipsed as it sets at 8:37 P.M. Annularity starts in Mongolia at sunrise on July 2 and crosses the International Date Line back to July 1 when it arrives in Alaska and races across Canada. Toronto, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls will experience annularity in full glory as the Sun sets! Imagine watching it from the Skylon and CN Towers! The path of annularity would have made it to Utica if only the Sun could have set a half hour later. Twilight could be much darker as the Moon’s shadow races high overhead after sunset.

There will be several more partial eclipses in the decades to follow, but the best one visible from Utica this century occurs on July 23, 2093, about an hour after sunrise, when an annular eclipse occurs for the first time since May 10, 1994. The Sun will be 88% eclipsed at 6:55 A.M. with annularity lasting 3 minutes 8 seconds. The Ring of Fire will finally return after 99 years!