December 14, 2017
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Path of totality across the Lower 48 a rare event

By Denise Lu, The Washington Post
JASON REDMOND | REUTERS | BDN
JASON REDMOND | REUTERS | BDN
A woman looks through a telescope on the football field at Madras High School the evening before a solar eclipse in Madras, Oregon, Aug. 20, 2017.

Today a total solar eclipse will be visible from the contiguous United States. It’ll be the first to traverse coast to coast in nearly a century. There will be 69 total solar eclipses visible from somewhere on the planet in the next 100 years, but only a few will be visible from North America.

The path of totality for the eclipse in August stretches from coast to coast — passing over Oregon in the west and moving all the way across the country to South Carolina in the east. This is a rare event; it’s the first time the path of totality will eclipse only over the contiguous United States.

The last time a total solar eclipse occurred in the Lower 48 was 1979. The next time a total solar eclipse will traverse from coast to coast will be in 2045.

In the last 100 years, some areas have been in the paths of multiple eclipses: New England, for example, saw five. (During its World Series dry spell from 1918 to 2004, the Boston area alone saw two.)

Others weren’t so lucky. Just 200 miles away in New York, construction on the Empire State Building had not started yet the last time the city saw a total solar eclipse (1925). San Diego had a population of less than 100,000 the last time it was eclipsed (1923), and Chicago hasn’t seen a total eclipse at all in the last 100 years. An area near Tucson has the longest dry spell in the Lower 48: The last total solar eclipse it saw was in the year 797.

The U.S. mainland has averaged about seven total solar eclipses per century since 2000 B.C. Some areas have seen as many as 25 eclipses, while others, such as spots west of Minneapolis, have seen only four in the last four millennia.

Patterns in how eclipses traverse the country mean that some areas, such as the Midwest, get to see many more than others.

Even though you don’t have to wait long for the next total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States in 2024, it won’t be as expansive as the one coming up. But if you’re waiting for an eclipse to happen over your head, don’t hold your breath — you might be waiting for a couple of centuries.

 


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