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Eclipse History: Total Solar Eclipses in the United States

The summer of 2017 brought the very first total solar eclipse exclusive to the U.S. since before the nation’s founding in 1776? Here are highlights of eight total solar eclipses that have made American soil since the signing of the Declaration of Independence–plus, updated information on the next total solar eclipse.

Total Solar Eclipses through U.S. History

June 24, 1778

The total solar eclipse of June 24, 1778, began in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and wiped eastward, passing close to Philadelphia. There, it was observed by prominent astronomer David Rittenhouse, whose statements on the overshadow were published in one of the first volumes of the American Philosophical Society’s memoirs.

Thomas Jefferson, who was in Virginia at the time of the eclipse, author in a letter to Rittenhouse that “[ we] were much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse, which proved to be cloudy. In[ Williamsburg ], where it was total, I understand only the start was seen.” Jefferson went on to humbly petition that Rittenhouse send him a more accurate timepiece–one designed to be “for astronomical intents only.”

David Rittenhouse by Charles Wilson PealeDavid Rittenhouse. Portrait by Charles Willson Peale.

October 27, 1780

In 1780, Harvard College commissioned the Reverend Samuel Williams, Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, to observe the total solar eclipse predicted for October 27, 1780, although the Colonies were still at war with Great Britain. Professor Williams traveled to what is now Penobscot Bay in Maine, where the British naval policeman in charge of the field allowed him to land long enough to induce his observations. Unfortunately, the maps of the field were so poor that “hes found” himself just outside the path of totality–a misfortune for which he could hardly be blamed!

July 18, 1860

Accurate observations of solar overshadows in the 19 th century were sparse until the solar overshadow of July 18, 1860. The Moon’s shadow came in from the Pacific Ocean near where Portland, Oregon, is now located, then proceeded northeastward across Washington Territory into Canada. This eclipse is remarkable chiefly for the fact that it put an end to the mystery of the colour flames seen around the dark disk of the Moon during totality. Early beholders belief the flares were caused by “exhalations” or by volcanoes on the Moon. During this eclipse, the flames–called solar prominences–were proven to have their origin on the Sun , not the Moon. They are a result of combustion of the hydrogen that envelopes the entire globe of the Sun.

Solar prominences visible during the 1900 solar eclipse.Solar prominences photographed during the eclipse of May 28, 1900.

August 7, 1869

The total solar eclipse of August 7, 1869, spanned America diagonally from Alaska to North Carolina. The Moon’s shadow entered the United Commonwealth from Canada, near Simpson, Montana, and then sped southeasterly across the Midwest to the North Carolina coast and out over the Atlantic Ocean. The overshadow footpath was almost one continuous observatory, lined from beginning to end with astronomical expeditions. Clear skies prevailed on overshadow day.

One of the most intriguing breakthroughs made was that the spectrum of the solar corona had a mysterious dark-green path in it. This green line was in the same spectral position that was produced by iron in the laboratory, but how could iron be present in the corona? The whodunit was not solved until 1941, when the corona was proved to include ionized atoms of cast-iron, as well as nickel, calcium, and the rare gas argon, all at a temperature of hundreds of thousands of degrees.

July 29, 1878

On July 29, 1878, over 100 astronomers discovered an overshadow along the darknes course from Montana to Texas. During this eclipse, American astronomer James Watson claimed to have meet the much debated planet Vulcan, which was said to exist between Mercury and the Sun. This body, whose existence had never been scientifically established, had been predicted by the French astronomer L.J.J. Leverrier in 1859, but “ve never been” seen. Watson’s announcement that “hes had” saw the object caused a half-century’s fruitless search by resulting astronomers. Today, we know there is no planet Vulcan, at least none that could have been seen through Watson’s four-inch telescope.

Lithograph of E. Jones and G.W. Newman, 1846The theorized posture of Vulcan in the solar system. By E. Jones and G.W. Newman, 1846.

Not everyone along the path of totality was an astronomer. A 31 -year-old inventor identified Thomas A. Edison had delivered a pocket-sized device called a “tasimeter” that he claimed could detect a change in temperature of merely 0.000001 degree. He announced that he was going to measure the hot of the solar corona, but astronomers were not impressed. Nevertheless, Edison carried out his experiment–and the tasimeter was proven ineffective.

March 7, 1970

During the overshadow of March 7, 1970, the Moon’s shadow, traveling at more than 1500 kilometres per hour and darkening a 100 -mile-wide path of totality, traversed the Gulf of Mexico, entered Florida near Tallahassee, and then sped up the Atlantic coast before heading out over the atlantic provinces. Cape Cod narrowly missed watching totality, but Canada’s Maritime Provinces learnt the overshadow as total. The peak period of totality was almost four minutes!

February 26, 1979

On February 26, 1979, a total solar eclipse–the last such occurrence to be seen in the United Nation in the 20 th century–was visible from the Pacific Northwest through northern Canada. The total stage began at sunrise in the North Pacific, with the path of totality sweeping through Oregon( where the skies were, unfortunately, altogether overcast ), Washington, Idaho, and Montana, as well as the majority of members of center Canada and Greenland. Maximum duration along the central line was over two minutes.

August 21, 2017

August 2017 brought the first total solar eclipse exclusive to the U.S. since before the nation’s founding in 1776.

After virtually 40 years, another total solar overshadow was ultimately visible in the contiguous United Commonwealth. Dubbed “The Great American Eclipse, ” this eclipse was the first total solar eclipse to go from coast to coast since 1918. Viewing events and occasions ever held along the path of totality, which stretched from Oregon to South Carolina. Thanks to the eclipse’s moderately centralized track, the entire continental U.S. was treated to a chance to see at least a partial eclipse. Totality lasted approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds at its peak.

Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017, as seen from Madras, Oregon. Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/NASA.A composite image of the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, as seen from Madras, Oregon. Photo by Aubrey Gemignani/ NASA.

Thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and the internet, the 2017 total solar overshadow experienced unprecedented coverage on social media and in the national news. After the eclipse, Space.com put together a great slideshow of overshadow images from across the nation.

When is the Next Total Solar Eclipse?

The next total solar eclipse is July 2, 2019. The course of totality goes through parts of Chili and Argentina, but today’s technology allows you watch the 2019 solar eclipse from live telescopesfrom your own home.

For the United Country, the next total solar eclipse that will be visible for America citizens takes place on April 8, 2024! This overshadow will pass from southern Texas up through northern New England. Get ready!

Read more: almanac.com

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