Eclipses explained

Why you need to get to the Path of Totality on eclipse day

Partial eclipses are partially interesting, but they’re not in the same ballpark as witnessing Totality

See the image in the middle of the picture above of the Moon surrounded by a halo? Unless you’re in the Path of Totality, you won’t see that.

When there’s a total solar eclipse, most of the region nevertheless sees only a partial eclipse. Only those in a narrow 100 miles-or-so-wide corridor will have the rare Total Solar Eclipse experience.

Many people won’t make the trip to the path of totality, put off by the specter of traffic, sold-out hotels, and long drives … isn’t it better to avoid the crowds and be happy with a 70% partial eclipse where you live? After all, 70% sounds pretty good.

It’s not; you’ve misunderstood what a Total Solar Eclipse is all about.

A 70%, and even a 90% partial eclipse, is dull. The Moon takes a chunk out of the Sun. So what? You’ll have to look at the whole thing through solar eclipse glasses, and if you do take an image, it won’t be a memorable one. Partial eclipses happen a lot.

If you’re near the Path of Totality and witness a 99% partial eclipse, that could be very cool; light levels will drop, and it will become eery. But you’ll still be missing out completely on what a total solar eclipse is all, and only, about, Totality.

When Is the next eclipse 2026-2034 book cover

So what’s the difference between a 99% partial eclipse –often mistakenly called ‘99% Totality’ (there is no such thing!) and Totality itself? Watch a 95% partial eclipse and a 99% partial eclipse and you’ll not notice a great deal of difference; the Crescent Sun will look cool at this ‘deep partial’ phase, but the light levels around you won’t change too dramatically.

However, the difference between watching a 99% eclipsed Sun and a totally eclipsed Sun is spectacular; Totality is a million times better.

During Totality, when the Moon completely covers the Sun, those in the Path of Totality are thrown under the Moon’s deepest shadow. Night descends for a few minutes and observers see the solar corona, the Sun’s fiery ‘crown’.

It all happens within the last 15 seconds when the sun goes from 99.9% to 100% covered – and it’s that 0.1% that makes all the difference, enabling us to see the sun’s corona.

So don’t get the eclipse wrong and become a victim of geography – Get To The Path!

Photo credit: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel