The 21st Century – A “Golden Age” of American Eclipses
The 20th century was a “dark age” of total solar eclipses over the USA. There were thirteen total solar eclipses over the USA, but most of those grazed a tiny portion of American soil, or were only briefly visible at sunrise or sunset. Only two 20th century eclipses were significant, in 1918 and 1970, in which totality passed over a sizeable section of American real estate. As a result of this eclipse drought, the majority of Americans over the past several generations have never seen the majestic sight of a total eclipse of the Sun on their own soil.
But the “dark age” is finally coming to an end.
And a “golden age” of American eclipses is about to begin!
Though it might be hard for people to get excited about something with which they have no experience, young Americans of the 21st century are about to get a A LOT of experience with total solar eclipses! Millions of Americans will see the total eclipse of 2017 pass right over their home towns. Millions more will (hopefully) travel to see this awe-inspiring sight. But after the fact, when it is too late, many millions more will regret that they were not informed or did not appreciate the significance of the event, and that they missed this most rare and precious spectacle in the sky.
There will be ten total solar eclipses that will pass over American borders in the 21st century, and one just to the south in Mexico. But of those, six will be “prime” sections of the path of totality that will pass over several states and a significant area of the Continental USA, within easy reach of millions of Americans. And of these six prime eclipses, four of them will occur within a 35 year period, well within the expected lifetimes of the majority of people who are young in the early 21st century. Also, several of these occur in summer, when clear weather can be expected.
Today’s young people will enjoy an unprecedented opportunity in American history for viewing eclipses. The current young generation of Americans will become quite familiar with the majestic experience of a Total Solar Eclipse. In fact, this may well prove to become a defining feature of this generation. Just as recent American generations have come to be known as the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials, in the future, today’s American youth may become known as…
(Click on the pictures below for interactive NASA maps explaining in detail the local circumstances for each eclipse. Also, visit our About Eclipses page for more information about the concepts and terminology for understanding eclipses. The maps are adapted from Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC.)
2017: The “golden age” of begins on Monday, August 21, 2017. This will be the first total solar eclipse since 1918 to extend “coast-to-coast” across the USA, “from sea to shining sea”! The point of greatest eclipse is in Kentucky, near the city of Hopkinsville. The point of greatest duration is in Illinois, near Carbondale, not far from the confluence of the Ohio River into the Mississippi. This eclipse is centrally located for American observers, and will pass directly over several major cities, including: Nashville, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; and the principal cities in South Carolina, Greenville, Columbia and Charleston. Tens of millions of Americans will be within an eight hour drive of the path of totality, and the entire USA will experience a very deep partial solar eclipse.
2024: The 21st century USA eclipse series continues on Monday, April 8, 2024, after a wait of only seven years. A child of Generation Eclipse in elementary school at the time of the previous total solar eclipse is now a teenager. The point of greatest eclipse is centered in Mexico, though locations in the USA are very near. This eclipse will pass directly over several large American cities, including: Dallas, Texas; Little Rock, Arkansas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; and Buffalo, New York. Interestingly, this eclipse will also pass over Carbondale, Illinois and the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, over which passed the 2017 eclipse only seven years before. Though this eclipse will mainly occur over the Mississippi basin, the Great Lakes and New England, close to several major eastern cities, it is the rainy season for these areas, so perhaps Texas or Mexico will be the only places to observe this eclipse.
2033: By now, many of Generation Eclipse who were young kids in 2017 and 2024 are young adults in their 20s, and might head to Alaska to chase the eclipse of Wednesday, March 30, 2033. The point of greatest eclipse is in Barrow, Alaska, and Nome also lines along the centerline. But March might not be the best month for viewing an eclipse, especially in Alaska, so any brave and bold travelers should have other plans on their itineraries! Everyone staying at home in Hawaii, the west, and the northeast will see a shallow partial eclipse that day.
2044: A minor, “tail end” eclipse will be seen just before sunset on Tuesday, August 23, 2044 over Montana and North Dakota. The main action of this eclipse will be far to the north in Canada. Two decades have now elapsed since the last USA eclipse. The elementary-aged children of 2017 are now in their 30s and 40s, and Generation Eclipse might be very eager to travel to see this eclipse with their own kids. The rest of the USA will see a very deep partial eclipse at sunset, which is an interesting sight for those who do not travel.
2045: The previous year’s eclipse is just a warm-up for the BIG DADDY eclipse of Saturday, August 12, 2045! This is the greatest American eclipse of the 21st century, over six minutes in duration! With a path of totality 160 miles wide! In fact, this is actually the greatest American eclipse EVER! This eclipse will be the long-awaited and famous event in the lifetimes of Generation Eclipse! Those adults who saw the earlier eclipses, who are now devoted domestic “eclipse chasers” and traveling around the USA with their own families! This eclipse will pass over: Salt Lake City, Utah; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Montgomery, Alabama; and Orlando, Florida. The point of greatest eclipse is out to sea over the Bahamas, but the point of greatest duration is on a residential street in Port Lucie, Florida.
2052: Seven years have passed since the Great Eclipse of 2045, and the memories are probably still fresh in the minds of many in Generation Eclipse, so the eclipse of Saturday, March 30, 2052 will be eagerly anticipated. But this eclipse will only graze the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Alabama and Florida, and will cross over Tallahassee, Florida and the panhandle, over Savannah, Georgia and onto Charleston, South Carolina. The children of 2045 are teens or in college by now, and their parents, who might have seen the eclipses of 2017 and 2024, are now middle-aged, perhaps watching the eclipse from cruise ships in the Gulf.
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In the second half of the 21st century, there will be a lengthy break from totality following the eclipse of 2052. The children of 2017 might take their grandchildren to see the eclipse of September 23, 2071, which will pass just 15 miles south of Brownsville, Texas into Mexico. Those grandkids might be teens for the total eclipse on May 11, 2078, which passes over the southeast states. The next year, on May 1, 2079, the “tail end” of an eclipse will be seen in the morning over New England. The Generation Eclipse observers of of 2017 will be quite elderly if their kids and grandkids take them to see the eclipse of May 11, 2097 over Alaska, and over the Great Lakes two years later, on September 14, 2099. Who knows, maybe there will be some Americans in Generation Eclipse who will see them all!
In the meantime, there will be many other eclipses of the Sun and Moon visible over the USA, including partial and/or annular solar eclipses in 2021, 2023, 2026, 2028, 2029, 2031, 2038, 2040, 2046, 2048, 2049, 2050 and 2051! So even in the stretches between totality, our young eclipse chasers will have at least a partial eclipse to see every couple years for the first half the 21st century!