While the Earth typically experiences two to five partial solar eclipses every year, there are only one or two total solar eclipses during that same year. On average, a total eclipse occurs above a given point on Earth once every 375 years ...
The last time a total eclipse happened in North America was in 2017, the next time this will happen won’t be until 2044. Over a period of seven months starting this month, Mazatlán and Mexico will have experienced two solar eclipses. During the first, which occurred on this past October 14, Mazatlecos were able to view what appeared to them to be a partial eclipse, but for viewers in the states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo, the eclipse was total. The second total eclipse will occur on April 8, 2024. Its path will be directly overhead of the city, and will be viewed by Mazatlecos as a total solar eclipse.
In the lead up to the October event, there have been some excellent articles published on various websites explaining the ins and outs of eclipses. One of the best that I have come across was featured on the New York Times website and contained some very well-done and interesting graphics (derived from NASA data) explaining the fundamentals of eclipses. After some brief contemplation of the ethics involved, I rationalized that the Times would not mind if I “borrowed” some of those graphics for this post, as long as I made sure to give the paper full credit. So here is a link to the article which, unfortunately, is behind a paywall: Maps of the 2023 ’Ring of Fire’ Solar Eclipse. The article focuses on the October eclipse, but the concepts also apply to the upcoming April event.
An eclipse of the sun (solar eclipse) occurs when the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun line up with one another such that the moon, positioned between the sun and the earth, blocks out the light from the sun throwing a shadow on the earth (yes, I’m probably not telling you anything you didn’t already know). Here is an image from the Times article depicting the relationship between those celestial bodies during a solar eclipse:
When the moon is relatively far from the Earth, it does not completely block the light from the Sun during a "total" eclipse, (i.e., when the moon’s outline is centered on the Sun’s disk). This is termed an annular eclipse and is evidenced by a blindingly bright ring surrounding the entire circumference of the Moon. So while the relationships between Earth, Sun, and Moon are the same as for a total eclipse, an annular eclipse is not truly "total" because some of the Sun's light is still in view. The October 14 event was an annular eclipse.
Mazatlán did not experience the ring effect because the city was not in the path of annularity (the path along which the eclipse's annular ring is present). As shown on the figure below (see my crude red arrow locating Maz), Mazatlán viewers saw a crescent-shaped Sun (partial eclipse) that was only 60-70% obscured by the Moon’s shadow.
The popular term for the bright annular ring is "ring of fire" - maybe the inspiration for this song?:
During the April 8, 2024 eclipse, the Moon will be close enough to the Earth such that the eclipse will totally block the Sun with no annular ring - a true "total" eclipse. As you can see from the image below (courtesy of NASA) the path for this eclipse is approximately 90 degrees out from the path of the October event. The different orientation has to do with the tilt of the Earth, the nature of the Sun and Moon orbits, and the time of year - it's complicated:
- The Moon's orbit: The Moon's orbit around Earth is not perfectly circular, but rather elliptical. This means that the distance between the Moon and Earth varies throughout the Moon's orbit. When the Moon is at its closest point to Earth, it is known as perigee, and when the Moon is at its farthest point from Earth, it is known as apogee. Total solar eclipses are more likely to occur when the Moon is at perigee, because it appears larger in the sky and can more easily block the Sun.
- The Earth's tilt: The Earth's axis is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees. This tilt causes the Earth's seasons and also affects the location of total solar eclipses. Total solar eclipses can only occur within a narrow band that is 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator. This band is known as the path of totality.
On April 8, 2024, a partial eclipse will begin at 10:51 AM. At 12:07 PM, the partial will become total and an eerie darkness will descend over Mazatlan, and will persist for some four and one-half minutes. During those minutes, the stars and planets will be visible, but the only natural light will be the solar corona, which streams out into space above the Sun's surface. If you want to know how I know this timing, you can view the animation in the video below.
There are many religious and cultural beliefs regarding the appearance of solar eclipses. For instance, the Navajo Nation in the American southwest refers to eclipses in their language as jóhonaa'éí daaztsą́ — which means "the death of the sun", and, as explained in this article, observes proscribed respectful behaviors during the event. I asked Google's Bard artificial intelligence chat service (named after the "Bard of Avon", William Shakespeare) to list some other beliefs in cultures around the world:
- Ancient China: The ancient Chinese believed that solar eclipses were caused by a dragon eating the sun. They would make loud noises and bang drums to try to scare the dragon away.
- Ancient Greece: The ancient Greeks believed that solar eclipses were a sign of bad luck or even the end of the world. They would often sacrifice animals to try to appease the gods.
- Ancient Maya: The ancient Maya believed that solar eclipses were caused by two jaguars chasing the sun across the sky. They would build large bonfires and pray to the gods to bring back the sun.
- Hinduism: Hindus believe that solar eclipses are caused by the demon Rahu swallowing the sun. They offer prayers and perform rituals to try to protect themselves from the bad luck that they believe is associated with solar eclipses.
- Islam: Muslims believe that solar eclipses are a sign of the power and greatness of Allah. They offer prayers and recite the Quran during solar eclipses.
"Many cultures around the world have religious and other beliefs associated with solar eclipses. Here are a few examples:
In addition to religious beliefs, there are also many other cultural beliefs associated with solar eclipses. For example, some people believe that solar eclipses can cause pregnant women to miscarry or give birth to deformed babies. Others believe that solar eclipses can cause animals to behave erratically or even die."
NASA has a definite interest in viewing the 2024 total eclipse from Mazatlan. NASA scientists will be arriving in early December to install telescopes at various locations throughout the city. The Mexico Daily Post has the story: NASA in Mazatlán with telescopes, transmissions and more for the eclipse.
Mazatlán is hosting a number of events and activities leading up to the eclipse. These events are intended to educate the public about the eclipse and help them to prepare for it safely. In addition, travel agencies, photography buffs, colleges, astronomical societies, etc., are all making preparations to visit Maz for the event (do a google search for "mazatlan preparations for the total eclipse in april 2024").
Here are some tips for preparing to view the eclipse:
- Book your travel and accommodations early, as Mazatlán is expected to be very crowded during the eclipse.
- Purchase a pair of eclipse glasses or a solar filter to protect your eyes. Do not look directly at the sun without proper eye protection.
- Arrive at your viewing location early to get a good spot.
- Be prepared for hot and humid weather.
- Bring plenty of water and snacks.
- Enjoy the experience!
Note: We will be posting here any new developments or interesting items regarding the total eclipse between now and April 8th. We will also likely be including some eclipse-related articles in the Pacific Pearl in anticipation of the event.
Comment from: [Member]
What a great article, Rich. I thought I knew all there was to know about eclipses from my science classes all those years ago. Very thorough and interesting.