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How Long Does a Total Solar Eclipse Take?

A total solar eclipse lasts only a few minutes. Depending on factors like the moon’s position and speed, duration ranges from 2 to 7 minutes. The maximum possible length is under 7.5 minutes.
a total solar eclipse
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    How Long Does a Total Solar Eclipse Last?

    A total solar eclipse is one of the most spectacular astronomical events, but it is also one of the briefest. The moon completely blocks the sun for just a few precious minutes, revealing the sun’s outer atmosphere and turning day into an eerie twilight. But exactly how long does this fleeting phenomenon last?

    Highlights

    • A total solar eclipse typically lasts only a few minutes, though the duration can vary from about 2 to 7 minutes depending on various factors.

    • The speed of the moon’s shadow determines the duration, along with the size of the sun and moon relative to Earth. The maximum possible duration is 7 minutes 40 seconds.

    • Shortest eclipses occur when the moon is farthest from Earth in its elliptical orbit. Longest when the moon is closest.

    • Other factors like location on Earth and eclipse path also affect duration. Those in mid-path experience longer totality than those on the edges.

    • The duration refers specifically to the time the moon completely covers the sun’s disk and the sun’s corona is visible.

    What Determines the Duration of Totality

    The duration of totality depends on several key factors:

    • Speed of the moon’s shadow – The moon’s shadow moves across Earth’s surface at over 1000 mph. The faster it travels, the less time it spends over any given point.

    • Size of the sun and moon – If the apparent sizes of the sun and moon relative to Earth are closer in size, totality will last longer because the moon will cover the sun’s disk for a longer period.

    • Location on Earth – The duration varies depending on where you are within the path of totality. Those near the midpoint of the path experience longer totality than those near the edges.

    The Maximum Possible Duration

    The maximum possible length of totality for a solar eclipse is 7 minutes and 40 seconds. However, this is rare. The longest duration of totality usually observed is around 7 minutes.

    The shortest eclipses occur when the moon is farthest from Earth in its elliptical orbit. At apogee, the moon appears smaller in our sky, covering the sun’s disk faster and resulting in a shorter eclipse.

    Conversely, total solar eclipses reach their maximum duration when the moon is closest to Earth at perigee, because the moon appears slightly larger and its shadow takes longer to pass over the observer.

    Real-World Examples

    • The total solar eclipse of July 11, 1991 had a maximum duration of 6 minutes 53 seconds over Hawaii. This was one of the longest total solar eclipses in recent history. [1]

    • In contrast, the total solar eclipse of October 23, 1976 only lasted 2 minutes at its greatest extent over the Atlantic south of Spain. This was one of the shortest eclipses in hundreds of years. [2]

    • The upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 is predicted to have a maximum duration of 4 minutes 28 seconds over Mexico, the United States, and Canada. [3]

    The Bottom Line

    While total solar eclipses may only last up to 7 minutes at most, their brief and dramatic nature make them truly unforgettable events. The duration of totality can vary significantly, from as short as 2 minutes to as long as 7, depending on the moon’s position and speed relative to Earth. But no matter its length, witnessing a total eclipse is an experience like no other.

    Sources

    [1] https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEplot/SEplot1951/SE1991Jul11T.GIF

    [2] https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEplot/SEplot1951/SE1976Oct23T.GIF

    [3] https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/solar/2024-april-8

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