Almost all life on planet Earth depends on the Sun. The angle of its energy—due to Earth’s axial tilt—dictates the seasons. Light from the Sun rules our daily rhythms. But now and then, for a moment, the Sun goes dark.
Solar eclipses occur when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun. During a total solar eclipse, the Moon’s shape completely blocks the Sun. Since the Moon’s orbit around Earth is elliptical, the Moon’s distance from Earth varies. On occasion, the Moon’s orbit takes it far enough from Earth that it cannot completely block the Sun. Instead, the Moon appears within the Sun’s outline, leaving a bright ring around the edges. This is an annular solar eclipse.
New maps from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS) reveal the paths of the 2023 annular solar eclipse and the 2024 total solar eclipse.
Witnessing a solar eclipse can be a profound experience. During totality, when the Sun blocks the Moon for several minutes, day turns to night. Crickets begin to chirp and the behavior of birds changes in an instant. A total solar eclipse is an opportunity to see our surroundings in—quite literally—a whole new light.
The orbital motions of Earth, the Moon, and the Sun are complex, but the equations are well understood. This makes it possible to simulate orbits and know when eclipses will occur. For those in the US, during 2023 and 2024, this stunning map makes that easy and delightful to do.