Watch CBS News

How often total solar eclipses happen — and why Monday's was so rare

Total solar eclipse cuts path across U.S.
Total solar eclipse cuts path across U.S. 03:57

On April 8, a rare total solar eclipse drew a "path of totality" over North America, throwing swaths of the United States, Canada and Mexico into darkness in the middle of the day. 

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, blocking our view of the sun as it passes. It's called a total solar eclipse when the moon completely blocks the light of the sun. These events are rare, and can only be viewed in specific areas for short periods of time. 

The path of totality for the 2024 total solar eclipse stretched from Texas to the East Coast. Cities including Dallas, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and Burlington, Vermont, were among the areas with the best views.

The map of totality for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse.  NASA/Getty Images

How often do total solar eclipses happen?

Total solar eclipses are rare, and ones that are visible from the United States are even rarer.

The events occur every one to three years somewhere around the globe, but are often only visible from Earth's poles or from the middle of the ocean. 

A number of factors go into enjoying a total solar eclipse. Viewers need clear skies to ensure the phenomenon isn't blocked by clouds, and only those within the path of totality will see the full effect of the sun being blotted out. Those outside the path of totality can still observe a partial eclipse, when the moon covers some, but not all, of the sun, NASA said.  

Best places to view the total solar eclipse in April 04:04

When was the last total solar eclipse? 

The last total solar eclipse was in 2021 and was only visible from Antarctica. The period of totality lasted just one minute and 54 seconds, according to NOAA.

The last total solar eclipse visible from North America was in 2017. Parts of the United States from Oregon to South Carolina were able to witness the rare phenomenon. Before that, the last total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. was in 1979, when just five states were in the path of totality. 

When will the next total solar eclipse be?  

The next total solar eclipse will be on Aug. 12, 2026, according to NOAA. This eclipse will be viewable from the Arctic, eastern Greenland, northern Spain and Iceland. 

Those looking to see a total solar eclipse in the United States will have to wait significantly longer. A total solar eclipse won't occur in the contiguous U.S. until August 2044.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.