A Dedicated Umbraphile

Four Eclipses with More to Come

Lester Earnest



After my seeing a fourth solar eclipse, my daughter JoAnne labels me as an umbraphile – an addict to total solar eclipses. The snapshot at left was taken during the eclipse 0n 2017.08.21 and the reason the Moon looks bright while blocking the Sun is that the Earth reflects a lot of sunlight back onto it.

     Here is my history.


  1. In July 1992, son Ian and I drove down the west coast of Mexico to Mazatlán and a bit further to a beach site to see a long eclipse. I was surprised when a bus full of local people drove down the beach during the eclipse without bothering to get out and look. The driver just turned on his headlights and kept rolling.
  2. In November 2002, Marian and I did a tour of Kenya together with my Caltech classmate Tom Stockebrand and his wife, then boarded a ship in the coastal town of Mombasa just after some terrorists blew up a hotel nearby ours and shot a rocket at an airliner taking off for Israel. We then cruised to Madagascar, visited some friendly lemurs there, then watched an eclipse from the ship just off the south coast of Madagascar before continuing to South Africa and the wine country there.
  3. In April 2006, Marian and I did a grand tour of Egyptian historical sites, again with the Stockebrands, then watched an eclipse from the border between Egypt and Libya where it meets the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, the President of Egypt kept getting in our way, wasting our time. 

4.     In August 2017, I drove to Reno to link up with son Mark and his family for a drive to Twin Falls, Idaho, where we spent a night, then went on to Sun Valley and another 20 miles up that valley to a high-altitude site in a forest near the centerline of the solar eclipse of August 21. There we met some other friendly folks and greatly enjoyed the show.


Future Eclipses. As you may know, the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit around the Earth causes its distance from Earth to vary, so when it is far away and moves in front of the Sun it often does not fully block the sunlight. In fact, most eclipses are either partial (with the moon blocking only part of the sun, along an edge) or annular (with the Moon covering the Sun's center, leaving the Sun's visible outer edges to form a “ring of fire” or annulus around the Moon).

      Over time, the Moon is moving further from Earth, with the result that fewer of the future eclipses will be total eclipses and eventually they will stop completely, though not in our lifetimes.

     The next total eclipse will occur on 2019.07.02 in the South Pacific as well as central Chile and Argentina. For a description of recent and many future eclipses go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_solar_eclipses_in_the_21st_century.

     Happily, with any luck, I will have many more opportunities to witness total eclipses. As discussed at the end of my Bucket List, I plan to live to age 112, which will take me into the year 2043, so according to the list cited just above, I may have a shot on the following dates: 2020.12.19, 2021.12.04, 2024.04.08, 2026.08.12, 2027.08.02, 2028.07.22, 2030.11.25, 2033.03.30, 2034.03.20, 2035.09.02, 2037.07.13, 2038.12.26, 2039.12.26, 2041.04.30, 2042.04.20, 2043.04.09. That is a total of 17 such events, which may be more than I have time for.