How often do solar eclipses occur?

The dates and intervals of annular, partial, and total eclipses, explained.
By | Published: July 18, 2023

A solar eclipse is an alignment of the Sun, the Moon, and Earth — in that order. The Moon, directly between the Sun and Earth, casts a shadow on our planet. Its shadow has both an inner and an outer part. If you’re in the dark inner part of that shadow, called the umbra, you’ll see a total eclipse. If you’re in the light outer part, the penumbra, you’ll see a partial eclipse. If the Moon is far from Earth, or if Earth is close to the Sun, an annular eclipse will occur. During an annular eclipse, a ring of sunlight surrounds the Moon’s disk.

All solar eclipses happen at New Moon. The only lunar phase when the Moon is between the Sun and Earth is New Moon. But solar eclipses don’t happen at every New Moon because the Moon’s orbit tilts 5° relative to Earth’s orbit. So, the Moon’s orbit intersects Earth’s orbit in just two places. Astronomers call them nodes. Eclipses only occur when the Sun lies at one node and the Moon is at either the same node or the one on the opposite side of Earth. If the Sun and the Moon are at the same node, we’ll experience a solar eclipse. If they’re at different nodes, there will be a lunar eclipse. Most of the time, the Moon is either above or below one of the nodes, and no eclipse happens.

RELATED: 20 of the best places to see the 2024 total solar eclipse

On average, 2.38 solar eclipses of one kind or another occur each year. There must be at least two per year, but there can’t be more than five. More than 72 percent of all years have just two solar eclipses, and only 0.5 percent have five.

Similar solar and lunar eclipses repeat every 6,585.3 days, or a bit more than 18 years. Scientists call this length of time a Saros cycle. Two eclipses separated by one Saros cycle are similar. They happen with the Sun, the Moon, and Earth at the same relative positions. Also, the Moon’s distance from Earth is nearly the same, and the eclipses happen at the same time of year.

A key question that often comes up is “About how often is a particular spot on Earth in the path of totality?” On average for the whole Earth, the answer is 375 years. Belgian astronomer Jean Meeus determined this some years ago. This average, however, is for all of our planet’s surface. It actually depends on whether the spot is in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere. If in the north, the answer is that a total solar eclipse occurs in a place, on average, about once every 330 years. In the south, however, it’s once per 540 years.

Although solar eclipses are just as likely to occur in the Northern Hemisphere as in the Southern, each hemisphere sees more of them during its summer — when that part of Earth is tilted toward the Sun. Now, since Earth is at the farthest point in its orbit in July (that is, during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer), the Sun’s apparent size in the sky is relatively small then.

This means that solar eclipses at that time of year are more likely to be total because the Moon is more likely to appear larger than the Sun. In other words, observers north of the equator will see more total eclipses. By similar logic, observers south of the equator should see more annular eclipses.

State                                      Most recent totality       Next totality

Alabama                                 June 8, 1918                  August 12, 2045
Alaska                                    July 20, 1963                 March 30, 2033
Arizona                                  June 16, 1806                July 17, 2205
Arkansas                                June 8, 1918                  April 8, 2024
California                               April 28, 1930               August 12, 2045
Colorado                                June 8, 1918                  August 12, 2045
Connecticut                            January 24, 1925            May 1, 2079
Delaware                                July 29, 1478                 October 26, 2144
Florida                                   March 7, 1970               August 12, 2045
Georgia                                  August 21, 2017             August 12, 2045
Hawaii                                   July 11, 1991                 May 3, 2106
Idaho                                     August 21, 2017             June 25, 2169
Illinois                                   August 21, 2017             April 8, 2024
Indiana                                   August 7, 1869              April 8, 2024
Iowa                                      August 21, 2017             October 17, 2153
Kansas                                   August 21, 2017             August 12, 2045
Kentucky                                August 21, 2017             April 8, 2024
Louisiana                                June 8, 1918                  August 12, 2045
Maine                                    July 20, 1963                 April 8, 2024
Maryland                                March 7, 1970               September 14, 2099
Massachusetts                         March 7, 1970               May 1, 2079
Michigan                                June 30, 1954                April 8, 2024
Minnesota                               June 30, 1954                September 14, 2099
Mississippi                             June 8, 1918                  August 12, 2045
Missouri                                 August 21, 2017             April 8, 2024
Montana                                 August 21, 2017             August 23, 2044
Nebraska                                August 21, 2017             May 3, 2106
Nevada                                   April 28, 1930               August 12, 2045
New Hampshire                       August 31, 1932             April 8, 2024
New Jersey                             January 24, 1925            May 1, 2079
New Mexico                           July 29, 1878                 August 12, 2045
New York                               January 24, 1925            April 8, 2024
North Carolina                        August 21, 2017             May 11, 2078
North Dakota                          February 26, 1979          August 23, 2044
Ohio                                      June 16, 1806                April 8, 2024
Oklahoma                               June 8, 1918                  April 8, 2024
Oregon                                   August 21, 2017             October 5, 2108
Pennsylvania                           January 24, 1925            April 8, 2024
Rhode Island                           January 24, 1925            May 1, 2079
South Carolina                        August 21, 2017             March 30, 2052
South Dakota                          June 30, 1954                August 23, 2044
Tennessee                               August 21, 2017             April 8, 2024
Texas                                     May 28, 1900                April 8, 2024
Utah                                       January 11, 1880            August 12, 2045
Vermont                                 August 31, 1932             April 8, 2024
Virginia                                  March 7, 1970               May 11, 2078
Washington                             February 26, 1979          June 25, 2169
West Virginia                          August 7, 1869              September 14, 2099
Wisconsin                               June 30, 1954                September 14, 2099
Wyoming                                August 21, 2017             May 3, 2106