Solar eclipse – A mind-blowing experience
Nothing can prepare you for what it’s like to experience a total solar eclipse in all its mind-blowing glory. It’s one of the most overwhelming natural phenomena I’ve ever witnessed. It leaves you in total awe, wanting to see more. Wanting to see another one. Solar eclipses are highly addictive. Read about chasing this fascinating phenomenon – and find out when the next one is! 😀
The solar eclipse in Europe
I experienced this sensation for the first time on 11 August 1999. On that day, we were lucky enough to see a total eclipse in Europe, where it is very rare for one to occur.
I went to the Moesel Valley in Germany to see the eclipse with my brother and his friend. We stayed in a little village, strategically located near the path of totality. Things had been looking bright & sunny for weeks. But when eclipse day dawned, we were greeted by gloomy & cloud-covered skies. Stubbornly defying our feelings of discouragement, we set out to a nearby field that we had scouted on the previous day.
So there we settled down with a picnic lunch & a bottle of wine, filled with eager anticipation.
The moment you turn into an eclipse chasing umbraphile
And by a lucky stroke of chance, the clouds briefly disappeared just as the eclipse was reaching its totality. We could watch the complete show and light effects, until the clouds covered the returning sun again.
We just sat there speechless, in complete & utter awe. It was a very special moment.
My first thought was ‘Whoooow! – I have got to see another one!’
Pinhole reflections of the solar eclipse.
Coincidence of space and time
Solar eclipses only occur because – by a freak accident of nature – the diametre of the sun is as many times bigger than the moon as its distance to the Earth compared to the moon. Which is approximately 400 times. Therefore, they look the same size from our point of view.
When the sun and the moon are in a straight line with the Earth, it creates the illusion of the sun being completely covered by the moon. And along with this comes one of the most spectacular light shows you’re ever likely to see.
Rivalled only by a full-blown display of the elusive northern lights…
Or a volcanic eruption!
Diagram of a total solar eclipse.
What is it like to see a solar eclipse?
These light effects will only happen if the sun is totally eclipsed. Even when the eclipse is 99%, the sky is still too bright to see them. It’s more or less similar to the last hour before sunset.
But as the final 1% of the sun disappears, a plethora of special effects is unleashed. This is when the shadow of the moon comes rushing in.
The horizon suddenly turns bright orange. It looks like sunset, but it’s not quite the same. Darkness rapidly increases with steely blue colours on the opposite side of the horizon, as if a threatening thunderstorm is approaching very fast.
Pre-eclipse steely blue sky.
Baily’s beads, diamond rings and a blazing corona
As the last tiny bit of the sun disappears, sparks of light become visible like a pearly necklace. These are known as Baily’s Beads. The sparks are followed by what looks like a diamond ring around the obliterated sun. Then the light goes out for a split second…
And a blazing corona shoots out from all directions behind the black hole in the sky, lasting throughout the whole duration of the total eclipse.
It is as if you’re staring directly into the vortex of the universe
People start cheering in awe & admiration as if they were at a rock concert of their favourite band! Even though I had seen an eclipse before, nothing could have prepared me for the sheer beauty of seeing one in a completely cloudless sky & uninterrupted 360 degree view to all horizons – surrounded by the complete set of special effects.
I was so overwhelmed by the immensity of it all that I was literally moved to tears.
Once you’ve experienced this magic, it will stay with you forever
But it will also leave you restless, addicted and yearning for another one. When you’ve been exposed to a solar eclipse, you will never fully recover… 😉
So the burning questions that trickle into the back of your mind:
When is the next solar eclipse?
The next total eclipse (in a fairly accessible place) will be on 20 April 2023. The totality zone moves in a thin line over East Timor and West Papua in Indonesia, and just straddles the coast of Western Australia near Exmouth.
How often does a solar eclipse happen?
Solar eclipses happens somewhere in the world every year or two, in vastly different locations. Time and Date has a site with continuous updates of worldwide solar eclipses. It shows a map of upcoming eclipse paths and detailed information about each eclipse. There’s even a countown timer to the next one!
Further down in this article you can find a handy overview of solar eclipses between 2020 and 2030, including dates, locations and the maximum duration of totality.
A map of solar eclipse paths between 2020 and 2040. Photo: ESO.
El Sallum, the 2006 eclipse location in Egypt.
Eclipse insanity in Egypt
I finally had the chance to see my second solar eclipse in 2006. I went on an eclipse chasing trip to Egypt, organized around the eclipse on 29 March in El Sallum, near the Libyan border.
A desolate place on the edge of the desert, where no tourist would normally venture. But now a distinctive atmosphere of excitement hung in the air, as thousands of people from all over the world gathered there to witness the eclipse. I was surprised to see how well it was organized, considering the normal daily life chaos that is so evident in Egypt.
Eclipse bedouin tents at El Sallum.
A foggy start of the morning on the eclipse location…
The solar eclipse in El Sallum
The place had to be de-mined specifically to accommodate the eclipse event. There were still lots of WW-II bombs & other nasty stuff lying around, and no-one had bothered to clean it up before. And up until the last minute, no-one knew exactly what was organized, and what facilities could be expected.
When we arrived at the crack of dawn, we were pleasantly surprised to find large bedouin style tents set up, complete with rickety tables and chairs inside, and even a toilet unit. Nearby was a roadside coffeeshop, where local musicians played traditional flute & percussion music outside to entertain the crowds.
It was almost like a festival party atmosphere!
Pre-eclipse entertainment at El Sallum.
Solar eclipse chasing
After Germany and Egypt, I was well & truly hit by a stroke of eclipse insanity. It triggered me to go to China in 2009 and Australia in 2012, to chase the eclipses happening there.
The cloudy mega-eclipse
With almost 6:30 minutes of totality, the 2009 one in China was going to be the mega-eclipse of all eclipses. Unfortunately, I didn’t get so lucky this time around… There was brilliant sunshine the day before and the day after, but on eclipse day dark clouds blackened the sky more than the eclipse itself.
I could just catch a glimpse of the first 30 seconds of totality, before the heavy cloud curtain relentlessly closed again…
Frustration! The cloudy eclipse in Suzhou, China 2009. Most of the 6:30 minutes totality was hidden behind angry clouds…
Eclipse chasing remains a wild & unpredictable gamble! 😉
Even with thorough preparation and analysis of where the most favourable weather conditions are likely to be, you can still get lucked out with view-disturbing clouds.
Make sure you’re in an area that’s worth exploring in itself, regardless of the eclipse.
Better luck chasing the eclipse @ Palmer River in North Queensland, Australia 2012.
The eclipsed sunrise at Palmer River. You can tell by the reflection in the camera lens that the sun is already more than 90% eclipsed – yet the light is still very bright at that point!
Total solar eclipses between 2020 and 2030
If you’re planning to see a solar eclipse in the next decade, this will be the list to watch! 😉
I will be very tempted to go for the big ones (with long duration times), and the one in Iceland in 2026. Although the risk of clouds is significantly higher in Iceland than in Spain or Portugal…
Dates, location and maximum duration of totality
- 14 December 2020: Central Chile and Argentina – 2:10 minutes
- 4 December 2021: Antarctica – 2:10 minutes
- 20 April 2023: Indonesia (East Timor and West Papua), and just straddling the coast of Western Australia – 1:16 minutes
- 8 April 2024: Mexico, south and eastern USA and the east coast of Canada – 4:28 minutes
- 12 August 2026: Iceland, Greenland, northern Spain and Portugal – 2:18 minutes
- 2 August 2027: Southern Spain and north Africa – 6:23 minutes
- 22 July 2028: Australia and New Zealand (South Island) – 5:10 minutes
- 25 November 2030: South and eastern Australia and South Africa – 3:44 minutes
An interesting annular eclipse
Another interesting one is the annular solar eclipse on 26 January 2028, because of its totality of a mind-blowing 10:27 minutes. This is much longer than the maximum duration that is physically possible with a total eclipse (about 7:30 minutes).
An annular eclipse is ‘almost’ total; the moon doesn’t completely cover the sun, and a tiny circle of light remains visible around it. This annular solar eclipse is passing through Spain, southern Portugal, and the northern part of South America.
The mind-blowing experience of a solar eclipse
Dr. Kate Russo is an authority on chasing eclipses, the effects of experiencing an eclipse on the human brain, and the mind-boggling amount of logistics and planning involved when a solar eclipse happens to occur in your area. You can find some excellent stories and unique scientific research on her website Being in the Shadow. Kate Russo played an active role in community planning for the eclipses in Australia 2012, Faroe Islands 2015 and USA 2017. She’s also involved with the upcoming ones in her home country Australia.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
Have you experienced the overwhelming phenomenon of a solar eclipse? Let me know in the comment box at the bottom of this page. Your input can also be valuable for other readers. Thank you for sharing. 💚
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Last update: 29 March 2023
First published: 21 March 2015
This is one of the most popular stories across all Wilderness Coffee & Natural High pages.
I published it originally in 2006 on MySpace (way back when it was still a social media platform), on my own Facebook page in March 2015, and on this blog in February 2017.
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