Quirks In Eclipse Recurrences

A random spot in the Northern Hemisphere is crossed by the track of a total solar eclipse about once every 330 years, on average. It happens that the frequency is rather less in the Southern Hemisphere (but you'll have to wait until the very end of this book to find out why).

Nevertheless all sorts of statistical quirks occur. One that is pertinent both because it is indeed in the Southern Hemisphere, and also since it is in process right now, is the case of the town of Lobito in Angola. Many eclipse watchers headed there for totality on June 21, 2001, and all being well they may return less than 18 months later when the eclipse of December 4, 2002, will also pass over that town.

Similarly there is a fair-sized area of Turkey, near the Black Sea coast, that was traversed in August 1999 and will be again on March 29, 2006. That gap of about six and a half years occurs often: as we will see in Chapter 15, southern Illinois will experience total solar eclipses in both August 2017 and April 2024. Even further into the future, the Florida panhandle will get such eclipses in August 2045 and March 2052 (make a note in your diary right away!).

The current 38-year hiatus in total solar eclipses for the continental United States is unusual in the opposite sense, being a rather greater interval than might be expected for such a large target. Even with that large gap, between 1851 and 2050 there are

20 eclipse tracks touching some part of the continental United States, an average of one per decade.

In this book we have explored the way in which eclipses follow certain distinct cycles, set by the clockwork of the heavens, producing the figurative tapestry described in Chapter 3. That does not mean, though, that they follow timetables like buses or trains. You could imagine waiting in one spot for an eclipse for a thousand years, while not a hundred miles away the lucky folk get a couple within a decade.

In the previous chapter we discussed the New York City winter eclipse of 1925. The Big Apple won't get another until 2079. That, though, represents a waiting time of only 154 years, less than half the norm. On the other hand, looking backwards in time the geographical location where New York City now stands was previously crossed by an eclipse track in 1349, and not for another six centuries thereafter. Indeed, after the 1878 eclipse in the Rockies the New York Times complained that "there has not been a total eclipse of the Sun within a thousand miles of this City since eclipses first became popular."

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