Solar Eclipses are Outta This World!


By: Audrey Rochester

Amateur astronomers who have traveled abroad to watch solar eclipses have told me that responses are always the same. The locals and the visiting astronomers are equally in awe and often in tears.

(Gonzalez & Richards, 2004).

Astronomers, Astrologists, and Average Joes all over the world are fascinated by eclipses. The above quote from The Privileged Planet demonstrates this sentiment. Astronomers and others in the scientific community generally regard the observation and analysis of eclipses to be useful for studying and understanding the world around them. Astrologists, deemed harmless partakers in fun by some and delusional pseudoscientists by others, also examine eclipses in an effort to increase their understanding of the world; Astrologists generally believe that eclipses signify upcoming changes or a current need for change. Average Joes, on the other hand, appreciate the beauty and peculiarity of the celestial event. The Privileged Planet also describes “eclipse chasers,” people who spend their lives traveling around the world in an attempt to see as many eclipses as they can. If you are interested in becoming an eclipse-chaser yourself, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s website contains records of past eclipses as well as predictions of future eclipses that contain valuable information for you.

NASA’s website lists the lunar and solar eclipses that occurred worldwide between the years 2001 and 2016. This article will focus on the occurrences of solar eclipses during that time period. There were four types of solar eclipses recorded on the website. These were the categories of solar eclipses analyzed on the NASA website: Total eclipses, annular eclipses, partial eclipses, and hybrid eclipses. According to the website, hybrid eclipses were the least common between 2001 and 2016, while annular and partial eclipses were tied for the most common. 

According to Webster’s dictionary, a total solar eclipse is: “an eclipse of the sun in which the moon completely hides the solar surface or photosphere and thereby cuts off all direct rays of sunlight from the observer.” An annular eclipse is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as: “a solar eclipse in which the moon covers all but a bright ring around the circumference of the sun.” Webster’s dictionary defines a partial solar eclipse as: “an eclipse of the sun in which the moon does not completely hide the solar surface or photosphere so that some direct rays of sunlight reach the observer.” NASA defines the term hybrid eclipse as follows:

A solar eclipse in which the Moon’s umbral and antumbral shadows traverse Earth (the Eclipse appears annular and total along different sections of its path). Hybrid eclipses are also known as annular-total eclipses. In most cases, hybrid eclipses begin as annular, transform into total, then revert back to annular before the end of their track. In rare instances, a hybrid eclipse may begin annular and end total, or vice versa. 

From 2001 to 2016, there were 10 total solar eclipses worldwide. There were 11 partial solar eclipses during that time as well; additionally, there were 11 annular eclipses during that time. There were only two hybrid eclipses between 2001 and 2016. From 2001 to 2016, solar eclipses most often occurred during the months of March, September, and November. The three months each had four solar eclipses. 

March had three total eclipses and 1 partial eclipse. The first March eclipse was a total eclipse occurring on March 29th, 2006. The second was a partial eclipse during March 19th, 2007. The third was a total eclipse on March 20th, 2015. The fourth was another total eclipse, which fell on March 9th, 2016.

The month of September between the years 2001 and 2016 had two partial solar eclipses, two annular solar eclipses, and zero total or hybrid eclipses. The solar eclipses which fell upon the month of September are described in the sentences below. There was an annular solar eclipse on September 22nd, 2006. The next solar eclipse to occur during the month of September was a partial eclipse which occurred on September 11th, 2007. The third September solar eclipse was another partial solar eclipse, which occurred on September 13th, 2015. The fourth September eclipse was an annular solar eclipse on September 1st, 2016.

The month of November had one hybrid eclipse, along with two total eclipses and one partial eclipse. No annular eclipses fell on November. The first of the solar eclipses to fall on a November between the years of 2001 and 2016 was: a total eclipse on November 23rd, 2003. The next was a partial eclipse which happened to be on November 25th, 2011. The third November eclipse was a total eclipse which happened on November 13th, 2012. The fourth was a hybrid eclipse on November 3rd, 2013. 

The months with the least amount of solar eclipses at the time were February and August. The month of February had one annular solar eclipse. The sole solar eclipse of February occurred on the seventh day of the month, in the year 2008. The eclipse occurring in August was a total eclipse. This total eclipse happened on August 1st, 2008. It is interesting to note that these eclipses fell on the same year.

The following are the rest of the months with their corresponding eclipses: January with three, April with three, May with three, July with three, October with three, and December with two. The first of the month appeared to be the most common day for which an eclipse would occur. Specifically, there were four instances in which an eclipse happened on the first day of the month. The first of these, a total eclipse, was in August of 2008. The second first-day eclipse was a partial eclipse in June 2011. The next one occurred during July of 2011 and was a partial solar eclipse. It is important to note that the year 2011 had four partial eclipses! This is unusual compared to many of the other years between 2001 and 2016, most of which had only two solar eclipses. The fourth solar eclipse that fell on the first day of the month was an annular solar eclipse in September of 2016. 

TL;DR: Many people around the globe take an interest in eclipses, be them lunar or solar eclipses. This article discussed solar eclipses and their occurrences between the years 2001 and 2016. There are four types of solar eclipses: total, annular, partial, and hybrid. Hybrid eclipses were the rarest; annular and partial eclipses were the most common. March, September, and November had more eclipses than other months; February and August didn’t have as many. Many of the eclipses from 2001 to 2016 were on the first day of the month. 2011 had a lot of eclipses.  If you like eclipses, visit the following webpages for more information:

Gonzalez, Guillermo, & Richards. The Privileged Planet. Regnery Publishing, 2004.