Seeing a solar eclipse is one of the most impressive and rare space tourism experiences on earth. Following the 2017 solar eclipse across the U.S., traveling to see an eclipse is an increasingly popular activity for those of us who love space here on earth. Luckily, there are two solar eclipses in 2021 – the first one was on June 10th, the next one is coming up on December 4th.
This first solar eclipse was an annular “ring of fire” eclipse; the December 10th one will be a total solar eclipse.
If you’re curious about the next solar eclipse, this post has everything you need to know. We cover the basics of eclipses, when and where you can see the eclipse – and how to travel to each destination. We also cover eclipse viewing basics and give a teaser of the 2021 total solar eclipse!
Are you ready to plan your next solar eclipse experience with totality? Dive into this post!
Featured photo credit: t-mizo via Flickr
This post was originally published in 2018 and was updated most recently in November 2021.
What is a Solar Eclipse?
If you’re not familiar with the science behind a solar eclipse, that’s okay – you can still enjoy seeing one even if you’re not an astronomer or astrophysicist!
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth. This causes two shadows to fall on the earth – the moon’s shadows – also called the umbra and the penumbra. The path of the penumbra on the earth creates a partial solar eclipse; for a total solar eclipse, the path of the umbra creates “totality,” where the sun is completely blocked by the moon. During an annular solar eclipse, this path is called “annularity.”
What Kind of Solar Eclipse?
Wait… Total? Annular? What? There are different kinds of eclipses. Here’s a quick breakdown.
The next solar eclipse is an annular solar eclipse, where the moon passes between the sun and earth but doesn’t completely block the light. This is in contrast to a partial solar eclipse, where only a portion of the sun is blocked, or a total solar eclipse is an eclipse where the sun is completely blocked by the moon:
Learn more about the types of solar eclipses.
What Happens During a Total Solar Eclipse?
During a total solar eclipse, the sun is entirely obscured by the moon.. This means that during totality, the sun is completely darkened, and the sky goes dark as well. Imagine sunset, dusk, and sunrise all occurring in less than five minutes… meanwhile a dark disk shows in the sky, with the wisp-like strands of the sun’s corona visible around the outside. That’s what totality is like during a total solar eclipse.
Important Details of the Solar Eclipse in 2021
Curious when and where the 2021 solar eclipse is happening? Read on to learn all the logistics of this eclipse, plus tips on how you can travel and safely view the eclipse.
When Will the Total Solar Eclipse Occur?
The total solar eclipse will occur on December 4, 2021 from 05:29 UTC to 09:37 UTC. The maximum of the eclipse will occur at 07:33 UTC.
This window of time reflects how long the entire planet will see the eclipse – not how long you’ll be able to see it in any given location. As you’ll see, this eclipse is actually barely visible on any part of the earth that’s inhabited – which means that most of us won’t see any partial eclipse and certainly not totality – unless you planned ahead!
Speaking of totality, if you happen to have arranged a way to see this particular solar eclipse (more on that below), it will last a short 1 minute and 54 seconds.
Where will the Total Solar Eclipse Be Visible?
We expand on this more below, but in summary:
- The path of totality only crosses Antarctica.
- The partial eclipse is visible across the rest of Antarctica as well as small parts of Southern Africa and Australia.
Is it Worth It to Travel to See Totality?
You’ve probably noticed we talk a lot about totality in this post. You might wonder: Is totality really worth it? Isn’t seeing a partial solar eclipse enough?
While seeing a partial solar eclipse is cool, there are few experiences on earth that compare to experiencing totality during a solar eclipse.
“What I find most amazing, having studied eclipses throughout history, is that no matter the time period or the scientific knowledge (or lack thereof), human responses to an eclipse are consistently, universally, expressions of awe and wonder, and even fear and terror,” author Steve Ruskin told CNET back in 2017. Ruskin wrote the book on totality, America’s First Great Eclipse, and has studied the impact of totality on human history.
However, for this particular eclipse, it requires so much travel to see totality, you’d do better to save your travel budget for a future eclipse where totality will be easier to experience.
Guided Tours for the December 2021 Total Solar Eclipse
If you have your heart set on seeing this solar eclipse, there are a few cruise companies that may still have space:
- Abercrombie & Kent
- Atlas Ocean Voyages
- Oceanwide Expeditions
- Quark Expeditions
- Smithsonian Journeys
But if you really want to do one of these cruises, get on it! Many depart in late November to make the journey across the Drake Passage to Antarctica in time for the eclipse.
Tips for Viewing a Solar Eclipse
With all the preparation it takes to see the December 2021 solar eclipse, you might not have thought about how to actually view the eclipse! Don’t worry, we’ve got that covered too.
Safety Warning: Protect Your Eyes During the Solar Eclipse!
First and foremost, it’s important to protect your eyes during any solar eclipse, including the 2021 solar eclipse. Throughout the entire duration of the eclipse – including annularity – you will need to wear solar viewing glasses that allow you to view the eclipse in its partial stage without damaging your eyes.
Never look directly at the sun during a partial solar eclipse.
Even looking at the sun with almost 90% coverage (such as what will be visible in Minneapolis, Minnesota during this eclipse) can cause permanent eye damage.
If you need solar eclipse glasses, Amazon has a good selection. Look for those which are ISO approved to ensure you’ll get the proper eye protection:
- Soluna Eclipse Glasses – 10-pack
- Rainbow Symphony Eclipse Glasses – 5-pack
- Celestron EclipSmart Binoculars
Pro-tip: If you are traveling from outside the region, buy and bring your own solar eclipse glasses. They fold down small, and then you know you’ll have a safe pair when it’s time to view the eclipse.
How to Photograph the Solar Eclipse
Similar to your eyes, a camera lens can be damaged by photographing the sun directly. If you plan to shoot photographs during the partial solar eclipse, you’ll need a solar filter for your lens; you can also make one from solar paper and cardboard.
Additionally, you should not look through the viewfinder of your camera without eye protection on. If you have a digital display, you can use this to view your shots.
Other tips for photographing a solar eclipse:
- Be sure to set up and check your settings before you shoot. You may even want to try some solar photography in advance of the eclipse so you have an understanding of the conditions and effect of the solar filter on your shots.
- Conditions change quickly during an eclipse, so you’ll need to have your camera set to manual and adjust throughout the eclipse.
- During the partial eclipse, set your F-stop to between 8 and 16, and your shutter speed between 1/30 to 1/4000. You’ll need to adjust these both as more of the sun is obscured.
- During annularity, you may need change your settings in a matter of moments, but will still need to keep your solar filter on your camera to protect the lens and sensors.
- In all cases, be sure to mount your camera on a tripod to stabilize your photos and get crystal-clear lines between the moon and sun.
In the end, photographing a solar eclipse is partially trial-and-error, so be sure to enjoy the eclipse with your own eyes (through solar eclipse glasses!) too.
When is the Next Solar Eclipse?
Following the total solar eclipse on December, 2021, the next solar eclipse will be a partial solar eclipse on April 30, 2022 – it will again be visible in southern South America and Antarctica. We’ll update this post with details about that eclipse once the December eclipse has ended!
Have other questions about the 2021 total solar eclipse? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: NASA Goddard via Flickr