2921: Eclipse Path Maps

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Eclipse Path Maps
Okay, this eclipse will only be visible from the Arctic in February 2063, when the sun is below the horizon, BUT if we get lucky and a gigantic chasm opens in the Earth in just the right spot...
Title text: Okay, this eclipse will only be visible from the Arctic in February 2063, when the sun is below the horizon, BUT if we get lucky and a gigantic chasm opens in the Earth in just the right spot...


A total solar eclipse occurred on April 8, 2024 in North America, nine days before this comic. This comic comments on the fact that most solar eclipses happen on territories not easily reachable by humans, places with weather conditions that make viewing the eclipse less appealing, like cloudy skies (mentioned previously in 2915: Eclipse Clouds and 2917: Types of Eclipse Photo), fog, or tornadoes (also a recurring subject on xkcd), or areas that experience only a short period of totality.

Zone label Geography Suitability for observation
Zone where totality lasts 1-2 seconds Land No stated issues for visiting, but rendered all too brief an experience for astronomical reasons.
Bay of shifting ice Water
(part frozen)
Open water might make this location accessible by boated observers. Solid ice might grant observers ready access by skidoo, ski and/or skid-plane. Shifting ice causes problems for all these modes of access.
Shipwreck cove Water/Coast The name implies the likely impediment to any boat access.
Desert so harsh they train Mars astronauts there Land
Implied inhospitable, and probably a lack of any normal transport/accommodation infrastructure.
Sea of rocky crags and maelstroms Water
Yet more risk of nautical hazards, including strong rotating currents. Possibly a nod to Scylla and Charybdis from The Odyssey.
[State department travel advisory] Island Unknown risk, but probably involves some form of political instability, war, or major health hazard that makes unnecessary visits highly inadvisable. May also be a result of adverse weather effects. Or perhaps all of these at the same time.
Isle of perpetual fog Island
(inc. littoral zones?)
Meteorologically unfortunate (ground visibility; may not fully obscure the skyward view).
Nice, scenic, accessible area (6 square miles, 40,000,000 visitors expected) Land Apparently one plot of land is ideal for eclipse viewing in all respects. Naturally, everyone else wants to be there too.
For scale, forty million visitors is slightly more than the total population of California (alternately, somewhere between those of Canada and Poland). Six square miles is about one tenth the area of Washington DC (similarly around one tenth of Liechtenstein or, if you prefer, less than eight times Monaco).
This would mean up to three people for every square metre, even before accounting for existing population and obstructions, as well as a high probability of travel congestion.
Tornado capital of the world Land Meteorologically unfortunate (frequent disruptive wind vortices, and cloud cover likely).
Area where the eclipse will be low in the sky, behind the tornadoes Land Astronomically disadvantageous, with added complications from the neighbouring weather system.

The title text mentions the solar eclipse of February 2063, and claims it will only be visible from the Arctic, though in fact this annular eclipse will traverse through the Indian Ocean. The eclipse in the comic would supposedly happen when the Sun would be below the horizon, which is a contradiction in terms, since an eclipse is only an eclipse from the standpoint of the viewer — it is equivalent to saying that the eclipse is not visible from that location, but is visible from a location over the horizon, at a point that is at the other end of a direct straight line through the Earth that is directed 'down' towards the unrisen Sun and Moon. It then jokingly suggests that a giant chasm could open up between the location being considered and the location from where it would be visible, allowing people to view it. If this did happen, the chasm itself would likely eclipse the eclipse as a spectacle. In most cases, it would also likely cause severely detrimental effects (for example, magma eruptions, tsunamis, etc.), and would therefore not be considered 'lucky' by most people, despite the small and short-term benefit of being able to view an eclipse from a previously unsuitable location.

Note: The Novaya Zemlya effect can make it possible to observe a solar eclipse when the Sun is below the horizon at the poles during certain weather conditions. Also called a "polar mirage", the effect is when an atmospheric inversion ducts sunlight along the surface of the Earth for distances up to 250 miles (400 km), which would make the Sun appear 5° higher in the sky than it actually is. This appears to be the rare situation where Randall was unaware of an obscure scientific phenomenon that would contribute to a joke.

Possible references to actual eclipses

  • Despite the solar eclipse of April 8, 2024 passing through many populated areas of the United States, many weather forecasts a few days before were pessimistic, predicting significant clouds, and even thunderstorms, along a large majority of the eclipse path. An example of one such archived forecast map is here. Only the very northeast bit of the path had consistently good forecasts, leading to news reports of an all-nighter of traffic jams, which the comic may be alluding to.
  • The solar eclipse of August 12, 2026 starts in Siberia, almost touches the North Pole, then touches Greenland, (barely) Iceland, and finally sets in Spain around 8:30pm local. In the relevant part of Siberia, the local time will be very close to midnight and the Sun will still be below the horizon for some. (The Sun will rise around midnight, just before/during/after totality depending on location, and then set after 10pm local.) In Spain, the length of totality will be significantly shortened due to the shallow angle at which the Sun (and therefore the Moon's shadow) hits the Earth. Notably, this is the next upcoming total solar eclipse as of this comic's publish date.
  • The solar eclipse of August 2, 2027 touches the southern edge of Spain and Gibraltar, then proceeds to go through numerous areas known for their political instability.
  • The solar eclipse of November 14, 2031 takes place entirely over the Pacific Ocean.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
Every eclipse path map
[A grey band representing the totality path of an eclipse travels along the map across several labels. Labels along the path from top to bottom:]
[On land] Zone where totality lasts 1-2 seconds
[On water] Bay of shifting ice
[On water] Shipwreck cove
[On land] Desert so harsh they train Mars astronauts there
[On water] Sea of rocky crags and maelstroms
[On a big island; label in square brackets] State department travel advisory
[On a small island] Isle of perpetual fog
[On small part of a peninsula] Nice, scenic, accessible area (6 square miles, 40,000,000 visitors expected)
[On land] Tornado capital of the world
[On land] Area where the eclipse will be low in the sky, behind the tornadoes

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Can anyone think of some particularly pathological solar eclipse examples? Lordpipe (talk) 06:11, 18 April 2024 (UTC)

The 2026 eclipse will be pretty hard to see. 07:42, 18 April 2024 (UTC)
It does travel into Europe in Spain above Portugal, so it could be viewed from there. But could be a lot of people aggregating at the coast line there, as it will be the most scenic place to see it plus the longest totality in Europe will be at that point. --Kynde (talk) 12:03, 18 April 2024 (UTC)
For the 2027 eclipse the only real good location to watch it from (at least in main land Europe) will be Gibraltar, a very small place for the 40 mill visitors... Most of this Eclipse is over seas and most other land based locations are in Africa and middle East, some places where it might not be the best place to travel to... --Kynde (talk) 11:56, 18 April 2024 (UTC)
During the 2031 eclipse, totality will not be visible from land. At all. And for the 2043 eclipse, the line of totality will be more like a small semicircle.-- 14:25, 18 April 2024 (UTC)Anonymous

This fictional map has a passing resemblance to the august 12, 2026 solar eclipse passing over Greenland, Iceland and the north of Spain. Calling Iceland the isle of perpetual fog is kind of fitting, but there are hardly any tornados in Africa. Condor70 (talk) 08:29, 18 April 2024 (UTC)

This is also the next total solar eclipse. These facts about these eclipses should be mentioned in the explanation. From both comments here. --Kynde (talk) 11:56, 18 April 2024 (UTC)
Added most of the above to the explanation. Zowayix (talk) 21:49, 23 April 2024 (UTC)

Entabled the labels. Saved the need for the original 'ideal place, shame about the crowds' paragraph. Added better possibility of individual analysis for 'unfortunate' locations (do edit, as seems necessary). Was tempted to add in "| unlabeled stretch of water || Water || (Some of this stretch of water be considered risky, or at least unfortunate, due to waterspouts arising from the next zone's weather. The immediate shoreline may be crowded by numerous small tourist boats trying their luck and avoiding the (misty?) northern shoreline.)", or something far more trite, betwixt the 'nice place' and 'tornado alley', just to account for an unlabeled zone. 13:31, 18 April 2024 (UTC)

For eclipses, I like TimeAndDate.com's info. You can see a list of upcoming total eclipses here: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/list-total-solar.html and click one to see and explore basically everything about it, in a way that's super easy to understand. Other types of eclipse are also available. --NeatNit (talk) 16:22, 18 April 2024 (UTC)

He forgot an important region on the map: That small town that gets perfect weather, prefect viewing, where only the residents saw it, and there were no visitors, because it was not convenient or special like that nice, scenic, accessible site with 40,000,000 visitors. That's where I live. Eclipse day was spectacular from my own backyard. 11:03, 19 April 2024 (UTC)

I added 'for scale' equivalents of 40M visitors and 6sq-miles, in both 'US-customary'(ish) and more internationalised versions, just to disambiguate. (See the edit-comment for less 'Western-centric' non-US possibilities that I considered.) For the benefit of fellow UK readers, of course that should be an area 1/3500th the size of Wales and a population thirteen times the size of Wales (human, that is; for sheep, it'd be less than four). Or, if you find the Wales unweildy, ~2175 football pitches (area) and 1.6million football pitches (population, but only if the two line-officials are counted!)... 13:52, 19 April 2024 (UTC)

The archive says that this a normal Wednesday comic, with the date as 4/17/24, and not a Thursday comic. Compare 2300: Everyone's an Epidemiologist, which the archive dates to that Thursday. 14:42, 19 April 2024 (UTC)

Fixed it using the archive date, as we always do --Kynde (talk) 10:14, 21 April 2024 (UTC)