The Last Total Solar Eclipse in the USA

1979 Total Solar Eclipse by Larry C. SessionsI have seen references several times lately online, including an article in Popular Science, stating that the last total solar eclipse visible from the United States was in 1918. This is simply not true. There have been several total eclipses visible from portions of the US since then, including the last one on February 26, 1979. I can attest that this one was visible, as I personally witnessed it in Williston, North Dakota, with the crew from the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

Astronomers from the United States Naval Observatory planned to make observations during the 1918 eclipse to test Einstein’s recently minted General Theory of Relativity. Unfortunately, the observations in Oregon were clouded out, and the honor of successfully testing Einstein’s theory fell to British astronomer Arthur Eddington, based on observations of an eclipse in 1919, which did not cross North America. 

TSENorAm1901This map illustrates solar eclipse paths across the US in the early 20th Century.

Despite widespread pubic interest, no such major scientific import falls to the 2017 event. The next solar eclipse visible in the US is in April, 2024, which runs from Texas northeast to Maine. An even better opportunity comes on August 12, 2045, when a wide path of shadow (umbra) runs from Northern California to Florida. This path will pass right over my home town, but chances are, I will miss it.

TSENorAm1951This map charts solar eclipse paths including the February 26, 1979 event.

For the record, it is estimated that any specific location on Earth, a total solar eclipse can be observed on the average about once every 300 years. However, specific locations may not be so lucky.

20264870_1384030974965841_20876766761428793_nHere in Denver, the last total eclipse was the famed one mentioned above, on June 8, 1918. Although several not-quite-total annular eclipses will occur before then, the next full on total eclipse viewable from Denver will be on July 22, 2772. I think I will miss that one as well.


Thanks to Fred Espenak and NASA for the maps and predictions, the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society (CAAS) and The Denver Post for the clipping.


About Starman

Cosmic Awareness Facilitator. Astronomy, space, physics, science, planets, cosmology, reason, logic, clouds, sky phenomena, the environment, dogs and other animals, and other interesting stuff.
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4 Responses to The Last Total Solar Eclipse in the USA

  1. Scott Levine says:

    That’s a great remembrance. I was a young kid at the time, but that eclipse was, probably, my first taste of astronomy. I remember my family talking about it. They were in New York, and I don’t know how much partiality there was there, though I imagine there was some. It’s great that you were able to see the 1979. I hope you enjoy this year’s, wherever you’ll be.

    Thanks for following Scott’s Sky Watch. I’m looking forward to checking out your website.

    • Starman says:

      Thanks. I’m only about 150 miles from the centerline, but I am going to stay home in Denver for this one. It has just turned into too much of circus for me, although I am driving up to Cody next week to give a talk on the eclipse. There is another nice eclipse coming up in 7 years, and I may try for that one. I hope you get to see something wherever you are.

      • Scott Levine says:

        It really has turned into a circus, hasn’t it? I’m probably 700 miles from the centerline, north of New York City. I’m not going to travel for it either. I’m disappointed but relieved because of how crazy it’s going to be. I’m hoping to do a talk near my house about it while it happens. 76% isn’t totality, no, but it’ll be quite a b sight. Good luck with your talk. I’m hoping to make it to the 2024 eclipse, too. My family has started toying with the idea of 2019 in Chile and Argentina, but… Wow.

  2. Starman says:

    I think I would travel that far for an eclipse only if it included other sights. Although, I know of some people who have seen dozens. Amazing that they have so much money to spend on travel, when they are not rich. Anyway, good luck.

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