Total Eclipse of the Sun – Where Can I Watch the Next Solar Eclipse?

This article covers the next total eclipse of the Sun and the dates for those to come until 2010. The next total eclipse of the Sun is predicted for 1 August 2008, and to view it you’ll have to travel to northern Canada, Russia or, for best viewing chances, to northwest China (details below).

Total Eclipse of the Sun

A total eclipse of the sun is one of those events that you are meant to see at least once in your lifetime. When a total eclipse hit mainland Britain in 1927, special trains were scheduled and thousands lined the eclipse path, peering through stubborn cloud cover to get a view of the totality.

The day before the 1927 eclipse (28 June), The Manchester Guardian wrote in its leader: “We may confidently assume that this will be the first total eclipse in England which has not struck terror into quite a number of people. Although the Chaldeans had established by the eighth century B.C. a considerable and accurate astronomical science by which some correct calculations of eclipses appear to have been made, there has never been until quite recent times a widespread popular understanding of what was happening when the darkness came.” After watching the 1927 eclipse, Virginia Woolf famously commented: ”I had very strongly the feeling as the light went out of some vast obeisance; something kneeling down and suddenly raised up when the colours came… [then when the sun came out again she wrote -TD] It was like recovery… We had seen the world dead.”

Where can I watch it?
The eclipse path starts in Northern Canada, in the territory of Nunavut, and then travels north east along icy territories to Greenland. The instant of greatest eclipse when totality reaches its maximum duration of 2 min 27 s, will be visible near (~14 km from) the Russian city of Nadym (population ~46,000). Then Novosibirsk, Russia’s third most populous city, will get 2 min 18 s totality.

But if you don’t like the cold, and you want a better chance of catching good eclipse viewing weather, without clouds to obscure it, the most promising destination is northwest China, and the small oasis town of Hami, which will get 1 min 25 s of eclipse or Yiwu (140KM east of Hami, 1 min 56 s totality). To get to Hami, you would have to fly to the desert city of Dunhuang, and take a 6-7 hour drive north. If you ever wanted to visit Tatooine, this is as close as you will get, with a glimpse of life in the Gobi desert and the Silk Road. When I visited Dunhuang in 2007, it had a Wild West edge to it, although dollar-tourism was very much gearing up, and one hotel’s claim to fame was a visit by Bill Gates, whose pictures appear in the lobby with the hotel’s manager and province governor.

A few important tips, if you are planning to travel to northwest china for the eclipse:

a. Most travel agents will recommend you fly via Beijing. But beware! Because of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, flights to Beijing may be very expensive, as will any other service in the city. One option would be to fly to Hong Kong, cross overland into Shenzhen and fly from there to Dunhuang, either direct, if there are flights, or through a connection (e.g. Urumqi). Don’t forget to arrange your Chinese visa, before you leave home.

b. To get from Dunhuang to Hami or Yiwu you will need wheels. In China, foreigners are not allowed to rent a car, so you will need to hire a driver and car. Normally this should not be a problem, but as there are likely to be lots of other eclipse tourists in Dunhuang at the time, you may want to pre-book. Try your hotel, and get them to book it, for a fixed, pre-agreed price.

c. Allow plenty of time for the road journey from Dunhuang. Journey times can only be estimated, and in areas where roads are less reliable can delay you significantly. If you can get to where you need to be a day in advance, all the better. Be prepared to rough it though. Small Chinese towns can get overwhelmed if a swarm of tourists suddenly arrives. Hotel rooms may be limited, and the more remote the location, the less likely it is that local facilities will be geared up to receive tourists.

If you can book an organised tour for this one, do it. You’ll be happy you did.

22 July 2009 – You can see an interactive map of the solar eclipse path here.

11 July 2010 – You can see an interactive map of the solar eclipse path here.

There are also a couple of “annular eclipses” in this period. An annular eclipse is a solar eclipse where the Moon is too distant to completely cover the Sun, resulting in a thin ring of sunlight around the Moon. During an annular eclipse, the Sun looks like an “annulus” or ring.

26 January 2009 – You can see an interactive map of the annular solar eclipse path here.

15 January 2010 – You can see an interactive map of the annular solar eclipse path here.

For further reading go to NASA’s eclipse website.

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