The 1991 Eclipse:
Path and Details

All diagrams © Fred Espenak and Xavier Jubier

World Path

1991 Eclipse: World

The Total Solar Eclipse of 11 July 1991. The dark blue region is the Path of Totality (also known as the Umbra).

The umbra shadow travels from west to east (left to right on the map). At the point of Greatest Eclipse, totality is at local midday. The duration of totality at greatest eclipse is just over 6 minutes 53 seconds. This occurs in Mexico. On either side of that point, the duration is less. To the West of greatest eclipse the eclipse will be total before local noon; to the east, the eclipse will be total after local noon. The umbra is widest around the time of greatest eclipse as the surface of the Earth is bulging out towards the Moon in that region.

The blue circlular regions are the positions of the umbra at ten minute intervals. The umbra becomes more circular around the region of greatest eclipse as the meeting between the Earth and the umbra becomes more perpendicular. The Sub-solar Point is the location where the Sun is overhead at the time of greatest eclipse. For this eclipse the sub-solar point and location of greatest eclipse are almost identical. This is because the Sun is almost overhead at the time of greatest eclipse. The alignment of Earth, Moon and Sun is very exact for this eclipse.

The red regions are the areas where the eclipse occurs during sunrise (left) or sunset (right). The area on either side of the path of totality (in pale blue) provides a partial eclipse, the magnitude decreasing with distance from the path of totality. Beyond the blue lines, no eclipse is visible.

The path of totality begins in the Pacific Ocean, crossing the islands of Hawaii. It then passes into Mexico and travels through Central America, Colombia and Brazil from where it leaves the Earth. The umbra takes 3 hours 23 minutes to traverse its entire path.

Unlike most eclipses which cover uninhabited regions of the Earth or large areas of ocean, this eclipse was total in five capital cities: Mexico City, Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa and Mangua. In addition several large Central American cities found themselves with the Path of Totality.

Our eclipse site was close to the southern tip of Baja California, a peninsula that is part of Mexico, close to the point of greatest eclipse. This was the longest eclipse I would ever see as no longer one occurs for over 100 years.

Path Across Mexico

1991 Eclipse Mexico

This shows the Path of Totality over Mexico.

The path is shown by a dark area bounded by two red lines. The blue line in the centre is the Centre Line of the eclipse. The duration of Totality increases as the observer moves towards the centre line.

The red lines crossing the path of totality are at ten minute intervals. At the point marked by a black Sun on the central line, the eclipse is at its maximum.

The path crosses the southern part of Baja California and passes over the mainland of Mexico moving South East along Central America. The Umbra took just under an hour to cross Mexico.

Path Across Baja California

1991 Eclipse Baja California

This shows the Path of Totality over the southern tip of Baja California.

We were based in the town of San Jose del Cabo. On the morning of the eclipse a group of us hired a bus to take us northwards closer to the Centre line (blue).

Path Near Santiago

1991 Eclipse Santiago

Our eclipse site was close to the road on a small hill approximately half way between the village of Santiago and the Centre Line (in blue).

Eclipse Details

Date 11 July 1991
Location near Santiago, Baja California, Mexico
Latitude 23° 30' N
Longitude 109° 42' W
Distance from Centre Line < 5 km
1st Contact (UT - 7) 10:25
2nd Contact 11:49:34
3rd Contact 11:56:26
4th Contact 13:21
Duration 6m 52s
Path Width 258 km
Umbral Velocity 0.69 km/s
Solar Altitude 83°
Solar Azimuth 100°
Gamma -0.0041
Diameter Ratio 1.080
Magnitude 1.0384
Saros Details 136 (36 / 71)

The Location is for the observation site. The location was determined by several members of our party who owned GPS devices.

The Distance from Centre Line was estimated from GPS and a good quality map plotted with the path of the centre line using data from Fred Espenak.

First Contact is the beginning of the eclipse when the first "bite" appears on the Sun's disk; it is the beginning of the partial phase. Second Contact is the beginning of totality. Third Contact is the end of totality. Fourth Contact is the end of the partial eclipse; we had left the site by then. The times are in local time which, for this eclipse, is UT - 7 (GMT minus seven hours).

The Duration of the eclipse at the observation site was 6 minutes 52 seconds. This is the longest duration for the next 140 years.

The Path Width is the width of the path of totality. The value of 258km is a large figure that produced a long eclipse.

The Umbral Velocity is the speed of the Moon's shadow, 690 metres per second. This relatively slow speed coupled with the large path width produced a very long total eclipse.

The Sun's Altitude is measured from the horizon; the Azimuth is the direction of the Sun measured clockwise from North. The figures are for mid-eclipse. The Sun was virtually overhead for this eclipse.

Gamma determines how the Moon's shadow, if extended, would pass through the Earth. A Gamma of zero implies that the shadow would pass through the exact centre of the Earth. A Gamma of greater than 1 misses the Earth and no total eclipse would occur. A positive Gamma passes North of the Earth's centre; a negative Gamma passes South of the Earth's centre. The value of Gamma for this eclipse is -0.0041. This means that the shadow passes a very small amount South of the Earth's centre; the alignment between the Earth, Moon and Sun is almost exact. In July, the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun. This produces an eclipse in the Northern Tropical Zone with the Sun almost overhead at the point of greatest eclipse.

The Diameter Ratio determines how much bigger the Moon's apparent radius is than the Sun's. In this case, the Moon's radius is 1.080 that of the Sun's. A total eclipse can only occur if this figure is greater than 1. The Moon would then appear larger than the Sun and could cover it completely. If this figure was less than one a total eclipse could not occur because the Moon would appear smaller than the Sun. This value is almost as large as it is possible to have. In early July the Sun is at its furthest from the Earth, hence appearing smaller in the sky. In addition, the Moon was very close to the Earth in its monthly orbit, hence appearing larger in the sky. These combinations conspired to produce a very long eclipse, only 34 seconds shorter than the theoretical maximum. The Moon was 8% larger than the Sun. During the eclipse, the movement of the Moon could be seen as solar atmospheric features could be seen, first on one side of the Sun, then on the other.

The Magnitude of the eclipse (1.0384) is the fraction of the Sun covered by the Moon. For a total eclispe this figure must be greater than 1.

The Saros is a collection of eclipses belonging to a series. Each member of the series is followed by a similar eclipse approximately 18 years, 11 days and 8 hours later. This eclipse is a member of Saros number 136. It is the 36th eclipse out of a total of 71 in the series.

Saros 136 began with a small partial eclipse (5%) in the Antarctic on 14 June 1360. The next seven eclipses were also partial but of increasing magnitude as the Moon's shadow came closer to the Earth. The 9th eclipse of the series (8 September 1504) was the first with the Moon's shadow hitting the Earth. The Moon was too far from the Earth to cover the Sun completely so this eclipse was annular with a duration of 0m 32s. After five more annular eclipses (each of decreasing duration as the Moon approached the Earth), the 15th eclipse (on 22 November 1612) was hybrid. These rare eclipses are annular and total over different regions of their paths. Five more hybrid eclipses followed.

The first purely total eclipse of the series (the 21st) occured on 27 January 1721 and had a duration of 1m 07s. Saros 136 has 44 total eclipses and after the first, the duration slowly increased as the Moon continued to approach the Earth. The 32nd eclipse (29 May 1919) is famous as the eclipse observed by Arthur Eddington to verify Albert Einsten's Theory of Relativity.

The following three eclipses of this series were all over 7 minutes long: 8 June 1937 (7m 04s), 20 June 1955 (7m 08s) and 30 June 1973 (7m 04s). These three were the longest eclipses of the 20th century and, indeed, the only 7 minutes eclipses of the 20th century. They were the first eclispes over 7 minutes long since 1062. There will not be another eclipse of 7 minutes until 2132 (from a different saros series).

Kryss and Talaat saw the next eclipse of this Saros (number 37 in the series) in China on 22 July 2009.

The duration of totality is now decreasing. The final total eclipse of Saros 136 (the 64th of the series) will occur on 13 May 2496 (duration 1m 02s). The series ends with seven partial eclipses, the final one being a small partial (10%) in the Artcic on 30 July 2622.

The entire series will last for 1262 years.

At any one time dozens of Saros series are in progress. Other eclipses will belong to different series.

KryssTal Related Page

The 1991 eclipse main page.

Map of the path of the 1991 eclipse from Fred Espenak and eclipse details at the observation site.

A photo of the five people at this eclipse.

Travel photos from Mexico.