The Last and First Solar Eclipse

The final total solar eclipse of the second millennium occurred on August 11, 1999. It was visible across much of Romania, who celebrated it with a commemorative banknote:

Romanian 2000 Lei banknote with total solar eclipse.

[Nicolae Săftoiu / National Bank of Romania]

We love this bill so much, it's like straight out of Walt Disney's Fantasia (an HDG favorite). Plus we love planetariums, solariums, and all things space-y. So while we've never been to Romania (or seen a solar eclipse) we had to make our Lei Blanket:

 The Hiller Dry Goods Lei Blanket.

What's neat is that while researching this design, we found out that people in the U.S. on August 21, 2017 will be treated to the first total solar eclipse of the new millennium visible from within its borders. But what exactly is a "total" solar eclipse?

Solar eclipses for the years 2001-2020.

Paths of all solar eclipses for the years 2001 to 2020 CE. [Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center]

What is a Total Solar Eclipse?

Every year the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth and depending on where you are located on Earth, and the distance of the Moon and Sun from the Earth, the Moon can either partially or completely obscure the sun.

How a total solar eclipse works.

[Alhovik / Shutterstock]

On average every 18 months there is a total solar eclipse that is visible somewhere on Earth. However they only occur in the same place every 340  to 410 years, meaning that witnessing one in a given location on Earth is quite special.

Paths of all total solar eclipses for the years 1001 to 2000 CE.

Paths of all total solar eclipses for the years 1001 to 2000 CE. [Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center]

What’s unique and awesome about our era’s solar eclipses is how new they are on a geological timescale. It was only around a billion years ago that the first perfect solar eclipse—in which the Moon appears to be exactly the same size as the Sun—occurred, and was exceedingly rare for hundreds of millions of years.

Three types of solar eclipse: partial, annular, and total.

Three types of solar eclipse: partial, annular, and total. (There is a rare fourth type called a hybrid.) [Photos by Tomruen]

Before that time the Moon appeared large enough to completely exclude the Sun and today’s variety of eclipses, including the annular eclipse (in which the Moon is too distant from Earth to fully eclipse the sun), were not possible.

Less than a billion years from now, the conditions will be reversed and total eclipses of any form will no longer be possible. In fact, due to tidal acceleration, the distance between the Earth and Moon increases by 2.2 cm per year. In 1.4 billion years, the Moon will be 30,400 km further from Earth than today and will no longer be able to fully eclipse the Sun. 

Earth and Moon viewed from Mars.

Earth: "It just feels like we're growing apart."

Moon: "Don't be dramatic, I've only moved two centimeters."

[NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona]

At the same time as the Earth and Moon are separating, the Sun is growing by 5% every billion years, meaning that the last total solar eclipse on Earth will occur roughly 600 million years from now

While that’s kind of sad, it is important to keep in mind that this is an unfathomably long period of time for us humans. For frame of reference, 600 million years ago the ozone layer was still forming and complex multicellular life was just appearing for the first time.

Dickinsonia costata, a multicellular life form from 600 million years ago.

Meet Dickinsonia costata, the footlong blob that was the bleeding edge life form of 600 million years ago. [Verisimilus / Wikipedia]

Want to see a total solar eclipse?

Well U.S. residents in 2017 are in luck. On August 21st the Sun will be in total eclipse over parts of 12 continental U.S. states, stretching from South Carolina to Oregon. It’s being called the “Great American Eclipse” and will be the first time in 26 years that a total solar eclipse will be visible from anywhere in the U.S.

Below is the path the eclipse will take as well as some suggested towns to view the eclipse from, courtesy of the Great American Eclipse website:

Path of the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017.

 The 2017 eclipse will be visible from parts of South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon.

[Great American Eclipse]

If you miss this eclipse you’ll have to until 2024, though the best viewing places for that eclipse are actually in Mexico. Also be sure to wear special glasses, staring at the sun for too long can cause permanent blindness.

 Indian holy men, aka Sadhus, wearing solar eclipse viewing glasses. Sadhus in Allahabad, India viewing the 2009 total solar eclipse, the longest in the 21st century. [Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP]

See You In K.C.

Because of its proximity to Austin (and because we love beer and BBQ) Hiller Dry Goods will be viewing the eclipse from just outside Kansas City in a town called St. Joseph, Missouri. The eclipse will begin on August 21st, 2017 at 1:06 pm local CDT time and will last 2 min 39 sec. Maybe we’ll see you there!

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— Hiller Dry Goods

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