So why is everyone so fascinated with the eclipse of 2017?
It is easy to think that viewing a total solar eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The natural phenomenon during which the moon’s orbit crosses paths with the sun’s, is not something we can look up into the sky and see everyday.
However, total solar eclipses are actually not as rare as we think.
In fact, every 18 months on average, a total solar eclipse is visible from somewhere on Earth’s surface.
Famous Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson called attention to the relative regularity of total solar eclipses via Twitter on August 16th, 2017, a few days before the eclipse:
In fact, in the 20th century alone there were 228 solar eclipses, 71 of which were total solar eclipses.
In the last 50 years, there have been 34 total solar eclipses across the globe, which are marked on the graphic below.
Although over the last 50 years total solar eclipses have been a relatively common occurrence, a good fraction of them have not been visible to the human population, and even fewer were visible in North America.
The frenzy surrounding the most recent eclipse in the U.S. can be attributed to this lack of visibility.
The eclipse on August 21st is the first total solar eclipse seen in the U.S. since 1979, and the next eclipse will be on April 8, 2024 traveling from Texas to Maine.