Sky & Telescope, in partnership with Great American Eclipse, presents the first-ever solar eclipse globe — showing the paths of 75 total and hybrid solar eclipses through the year 2100.
There's a saying that goes: "Once you've seen your first total solar eclipse, your first four words are 'When's the next one?'" Millions of skywatchers all across the U.S. got a chance to witness totality on August 21, 2017, and most of them were indeed seeing the Sun's corona for the first time. So are they really planning when and where to stand in the Moon's shadow again?
I sure hope so! Total solar eclipses are nature's most spectacular sky sights. Seeing the Sun’s corona in the suddenly darkened daytime sky is an experience so compelling that several thousand "eclipsophiles" will travel around the world to see any total solar eclipse they reasonably can.
And to make that planning a little easier, Sky & Telescope is proud to announce its newest product: a 12-inch globe of Earth embellished with the track of every total and hybrid solar eclipse through the end of this century. I got a chance to hold one of the first ones produced just yesterday — it's both visually stunning and brimming with information.
A Century of Total Solar Eclipses
The globe depicts the paths of every total solar eclipse of the 21st century, from 2001 to 2100. There are 75 paths in all, 68 "totals" and another seven "hybrids," which can briefly appear total or annular depending on the observer’s location along the path. Yep, 2017's coast-to-coast eclipse is there, as is the U.S.-friendly one in 2024. (If you're wondering, no total eclipses occurred in 2000.)
It features a gorgeous terrain map from the public-domain database Natural Earth that uses color tints to distinguish arid regions from humid areas. And we kept the usual geopolitical detail to a minimum. National boundaries are there — though I'm betting that some of those will certainly change throughout the 21st century.
The globe's transparent yellow paths mark the areas within which totality can be observed as the Moon's shadow races across the oceans and continents. Thin red lines in the centers of these paths denote where the longest local duration of totality can be enjoyed. A small, red-rimmed yellow circle near the midpoint of each eclipse path shows the point of greatest eclipse — where totality's duration is longest — along with the eclipse’s date (reckoned in Universal Time) and the maximum duration of totality in minutes and seconds.
When I picked up the globe (it sits freely on a clear plastic base), it was immediately obvious that some eclipse paths are wider than others. Generally, wider eclipse paths offer longer durations of totality, and several factors influence this variation. Paths near the poles are fat due to the angle of incidence of the Moon’s shadow cone with Earth. An eclipse when the Moon is at perigee creates a bigger, longer-lasting shadow on Earth's surface.
And even the time of year can be a factor. For example, during northern summer, Earth is about 2% farther from the Sun than average — so the Sun looks a bit smaller in the sky and it's a bit easier for the Moon to cover it completely.
Four Years in the Making
How this globe came to be is a saga that began on June 3, 2016, when an email arrived from Michael Zeiler. He's an incredible cartographer and a diehard eclipse junkie. We'd met aboard a cruise ship specially chartered for the eclipse of July 22, 2009 — which, by the way, offered 6m 39s of totality, the longest duration of any such eclipse in the 21st century.
"Sky & Telescope's globe series is clearly a big hit," he began. "To my mind, it would be very cool to add one more globe: an Earth globe featuring the paths of all the total solar eclipses of the 21st century. With the coming eclipse next year, I think the timing would be perfect and as far as I know, there has never been an eclipse globe manufactured."
Well, he didn't have to ask twice! Zeiler had already constructed the globe projections for Sky & Telescope’s 12-inch Earth Globe, so he had a running start. Within two months, he'd generated some test plots, and it looked like we'd easily have a globe produced in time for 2017's Great American Eclipse. (Not coincidentally, Zeiler and Polly White operate GreatAmericanEclipse.com, a rich, entertaining, and highly educational collection of maps and other information about recent and historical eclipses.)
But unbeknown to us, other forces were at play within the higher levels of F+W Media, the previous and now-defunct owner of Sky & Telescope. Suffice it to say that the eclipse-globe project got shelved for a couple of years. Eventually I pinged Zeiler to see if he wanted to resume the effort, and he did!
It would take more than one lifetime to view the 68 total and seven hybrid solar eclipses depicted on Sky & Telescope's Solar Eclipse Globe.
It still took a year to get everything just right, but at long last the eclipse globe is a reality — and it's so much better than a flat map showing eclipse paths. "Each of the many available map projections involves some sort of compromise," Zeiler explains. "You aim to preserve features' true relative areas, lengths, shapes, azimuth angles, or some combination of these characteristics. There is no perfect map that preserves all these characteristics — except a globe."
I must add that we couldn't have done this without the support and expertise of the staff at Replogle Globes, which produces the entire S&T lineup. Because of how these cardboard-based spheres are assembled, it's challenging to get all of the eclipse paths to match up exactly between each hemisphere's 12 gores. (This alignment is also especially critical on S&T's 12-inch celestial globe.)
"While maps of eclipse paths have been produced since 1654, this is the first globe specifically designed to feature the paths of total solar eclipses," Zeiler notes. "A globe is ideal for depicting these eclipse paths because the distortions inherent in any flat map of Earth are eliminated. Moreover, a globe accurately represents the true areal extent of totality’s path across Earth’s surface."
My Next Total Solar Eclipse?
Yesterday I scanned those dozens of pale yellow tracks closely, wondering when would the last total solar eclipse occur that I'll get to see. So many paths, but so little time! There's a nice one in August 2026 that crosses both Iceland (where temps will be pleasant) and Spain (maybe too hot?).
Two years later, I'll be faced with a really tough choice: the Moon's shadow slashes across both Australia (Sydney's on the centerline) and New Zealand. And optimistically there's a "total" in September 2035 that passes just north of Tokyo, which I've never visited.
Where would you like to see your next — or maybe your first — total solar eclipse? Our new solar eclipse globe will help you decide!