A total solar eclipse will begin on December 4, just after 2 a.m. Eastern. While the maximum eclipse will occur at 2:33 a.m., you’d need to travel a long way to see it: all the way to Antarctica.
Unfortunately, you won’t even be able to see the partial solar eclipse unless you live in the southernmost parts of South America, Africa, Australia, or New Zealand.
Why A Solar Eclipse Occurs
A solar eclipse requires a somewhat rare alignment of Earth, the moon, and the sun. When they line up exactly, the moon blocks light from the sun from reaching Earth. During a solar eclipse, the moon casts a shadow on Earth.
The moon’s shadow isn’t large enough to cover Earth, which is why the shadow is always limited to a certain area. This area changes during the eclipse because the moon is in constant rotation around Earth, and Earth continuously rotates on its axis while it orbits the Sun, NASA explains.
During a solar eclipse, the moon casts two shadows on Earth. The first shadow, known as the penumbra, gets larger as it reaches Earth. People in the penumbra will see a partial eclipse.
The other shadow, known as the umbra, is the dark center of the moon’s shadow. It gets smaller as it reaches Earth. People in the umbra will see a total solar eclipse.
The December 4 Solar Eclipse
The instant of greatest solar eclipse — or the total solar eclipse — will take place on December 4, 2021, at 5:29 a.m. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). You can learn how to convert UTC time to your local time here.
The only place on Earth where you’ll be able to see the total solar eclipse is Antarctica. On the other hand, areas of southern Australia, Africa, and South America, as well as locations in the southern parts of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans will see a partial solar eclipse. So, for example, stargazers in Melbourne, Australia, and Cape Town, South Africa, will be able to watch the event.
You can find a list of cities where a partial eclipse will be visible here.
More On Planetary Movement
Interestingly, the last total solar eclipse occurred on November 23, 2003, exactly 18 years and 11 days before December 4, 2021. The next total solar eclipse will occur on December 15, 2039, which will be exactly 18 years and 11 days after December 4, 2021.
It’s understandable if you had to read that twice. And it’s not a coincidence.
Astronomers have known that solar eclipses repeat in a cycle since ancient Babylonian times.
This cycle of 6,585.3 days — or 18 years, 11 days, and 8 hours — is known as the Saros cycle.
One final note: If you’re interested in stargazing, you may be wondering, “Wasn’t there a recent lunar eclipse?”
Yes, you’re right. There was a lunar eclipse in the overnight hours of Thursday, November 19.
A solar eclipse always occurs approximately two weeks before or after a lunar eclipse. That’s because the moon, Earth, and sun are still aligned on the same plane in space at those times.
While you’re thinking about it, be sure to read the rest of our stargazing content, including: