2914: Eclipse Coolness

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Eclipse Coolness
A partial eclipse is like a cool sunset. A total eclipse is like someone broke the sky.
Title text: A partial eclipse is like a cool sunset. A total eclipse is like someone broke the sky.


A total solar eclipse occurred in North America on April 8, 2024, a week after this comic. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves between the Sun and the Earth, but in order for it to be a total eclipse, the Sun, Moon and the observer's position on the Earth need to line up nearly exactly, and at the right distances (if the Moon is too far away, the eclipse will be annular, rather than total). When such a phenomenon occurs, there's a "path of totality", referring to the range of locations where such an alignment occurs (though only for a few minutes in each location). Away from, but near to, the path of totality (and outside of the specific time of totality), the Moon partially obscures the Sun. In Boston, where Randall lives, the Sun will be 93% obscured at the local peak of the eclipse.

The comic refers to the fact that the human eye is very good at adapting to different levels of light intensity. At 95% occlusion, it's noticeably dimmer outside, but the effect is similar to light in late evening, or on a heavily overcast day, nothing particularly remarkable. Using eclipse glasses (or a simple pinhole camera), it's possible to see the Sun being occluded, but someone unaware that an eclipse was occurring would barely notice that anything was happening.

Within the path of totality, it's a different situation. Though an eclipse for any given locale could be experienced at all times from dawn to dusk, the most dramatic ones will occur somewhere around the middle of the observer's day. When the Moon fully obscures the Sun, for a brief period of time, the area becomes almost fully dark without the usual or expected crepuscular transition. Temperatures drop noticeably in a matter of minutes and wildlife (and people) may react in unusual ways. The level of light in the rest of the sky is similar to that which accompanies a sunset, but in all directions and without the horizon's red light effect. Most dramatically, the previously unseeable Sun's upper atmosphere can be viewed, as a ring around the dark circle of the Moon, with the naked eye (which should only be possible once the bright solar disc is obscured, and until it starts to appear again). At the very limits of totality, though perhaps most dramatic at its ending, the smallest sections of the bright solar surface will briefly be the only parts to shine through low points on the Moon's edge to form Baily's beads, or a "diamond ring" effect, not at all visible beyond the narrow central strip of the eclipse.

The graph in this strip points out that the difference between 91% (or even a 99%) eclipse and a total eclipse is dramatic. An almost total eclipse is barely noticeable, while a total eclipse is a visual phenomenon unlike any other. This is a situation where being close to the path of totality and being on it makes a huge difference.

Forbes made a similar reference to total solar eclipses being only worthwhile seeing if in the direct path of 100% totality, with a "map of nope". The map shows all of North America that's not directly in the 100% path of totality as "Nope" meaning that anyone in those areas won't experience the full "OMG!" experience of the total solar eclipse. The article mentions hotels may claim to be close enough to the eclipse with "nonsensical oxymorons like '99% coverage of the full total eclipse'" and that it is common for people to think: "I'm happy to avoid the traffic and settle for 95%'".

The title text simply emphasises the point of the comic - the significant difference between a partial and a total eclipse. It is unclear whether the claim is that a partial eclipse is really 'like' a sunset, while a total eclipse seems like someone broke the sky — claims which would be hyperbolic — or if the intention is to say that the comparison between a partial and total eclipse is equivalent to the comparison between a cool sunset and a broken sky.

Randall has earlier made many comics about the 2017 total solar eclipse, such as 1876: Eclipse Searches through 1880: Eclipse Review and 2816: Types of Solar Eclipse. Randall and his wife also made plans to see the 2024 eclipse in 1928: Seven Years.

Additionally, the graph appears similar to a Dirac delta distribution.


[A graph is shown with a curve starting from zero a bit from the left of the Y-axis and from there staying almost at the same height just above the X-axis from left to right, where it again goes to zero a bit from the right end of the X-axis. That is except at the very center of the graph, where the line peaks going to a point high above the top of the Y-axis. An arrow is pointing up on the top of the Y-axis and this axis has a label to the left. The X-axis has no label or arrow, but there are three segments beneath it, two large left and right of the peak and a very small in the middle just under the peak. The two large segments has a double arrow pointing from the two lines at the left and right of their segments, and in the middle of these arrow there are labels. Beneath these segments there is another label with an arrow pointing to the gap between the lines of the two long segments. At the top left of the graph there is a large header with a sub header beneath:]
How cool a solar eclipse looks
by position along the path
Y-axis: Coolness
Label beneath X-axis left : Partial eclipse zone
Label beneath X-axis center: Path of totality
Label beneath X-axis right : Partial eclipse zone
[Two small dots representing people are drawn a bit to the right of the path of totality zone. Star bursts above these indicate they are speaking with their text shown above them:]
Left person: We should have a good view here - we're pretty close to the middle of the path.
Right person: Yeah, this map says the sun will be 91% eclipsed!


  • This comic was released on April 1st and marks the second year in a row that Randall's April fools' comic appeared delayed .
    • It is the first time a release day has fallen on April 1st without Randall making any note of it, and not since 2009 has there been a comic released on April 1st without it being an April fools' comic.
    • That year, however, he found another way to make an April fools'.
    • For 2024, the release of 2916: Machine, in Friday's 5/April comic slot, seems to fulfil the expected April appearance of a 'special comic'.

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Awww :(. -- 03:39, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

Awww :(? Yeaa :)! I _despise_ the Fool. It's hard enough for me to tell when people are serious as is.
i agree. youtu.be/miLcaqq2Zpk 07:18, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

This comic is contributing to the extremes of eclipse tourism, by telling people only the total eclipse counts. Now, a week before the eclipse it will be very hard, and expensive, to secure transportation and accommodation in the path of total eclipse. They are recurring phenomena, don't fall for it. -- 05:42, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

I'm in my 60's, this could be the last one for me, since the next one in the continental US will be in 20 years. It's going to be 93% here in eastern Mass, and they're predicting clear skies. I could drive 7 hours to Buffalo, but they're currently forecasting 40% cloud cover. Barmar (talk) 14:34, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
I'd have to wait until 2090 for another 'local' one (and, like you, age is an issue, but also the effective footprint size of the country doesn't help). I don't know what the weather is going to be like, yet, so fingers crossed it's better in ⅔rds of a century than it was ¼ of one ago... ;) 18:44, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
They are a recurring phenomena, but that doesn't mean they're always accessible. Not everyone can afford to hop on a plane and go fly to another continent to see a Total Solar Eclipse. 22:44, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

I don't think "along the path" is correct, doesn't the x-axis show the distance "away from the path?"

Totally agree.

What? No April Fool's? Why? B for brain (talk) (youtube channel wobsite (supposed to be a blag) 08:47, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

I guess that was the april fools joke - that there wasn't one guess who (if you want to | what i have done) 19:29, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

Randall's title text overstates the coolness of both total and partial eclipses. A cool sunset is way cooler than a partial eclipse, and probably cooler than a total eclipse, especially if the eclipse happens on a day that's cloudy to start with. 09:22, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

The only eclipse I was under totality for (in '99), I was also unfortunate enough to put myself on a hill that found itself under cloud at the time. But it was still atmospheric, much moreso than the partials that I subsequently happened to be near. Even not seeing the Sun being entirely not visible (I had caught glimpses of 'on the way' partiality, before, and again after) was more profound than seeing (safely, of course) the partial effects that were as good as I could get on later occasions.
Sunsets (and -rises, especially with the right weather) are indeed visually stunning. But I'd argue that, barring perhaps the fleetingly transient 'green flash' or rather specific landscape effects, the novelty is smeared around. Both during the event and, unless you're only rarely at the time and place (and awake/attentive) these things happen, across all possible occasions.
Being on the Moon (once you get over "I'm on the Mooon!!") would make fortnights between sunrises/-sets, no weather getting in the way (no weather to give it any special differences!), and probably psychological effects that become mundane/depressing (for a long enough residence there). Solar eclipses (our Lunar Eclipses) will be probably be at least twice a year, won't feature a Diamond Ring, will be Moon-wide (well, just the near-face half/bits of 'rim', or significant parts of that in the case of partial LEs). What would be the relative wonder of an SE-from-Moon and a Lunar sunset? It'd be a tricky equation. But I think we'd lose a lot from the eclipse not being with two 'similarly-sized' bodies. And an 'Earth eclipse' from the Moon (looking for the tiny dot of travelling umbra, as it traces across the Earth's disc) probably wouldn't be worth it at all. (But you're "On the Mooon!", so that might be the biggest excitement, still, until it isn't (spoilers! ...if you haven't seen it yet).) 12:43, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
Iain Banks covered this in a similar vein in Transition. An aspiring scriptwriter, trudging from meeting to meeting trying to pitch his idea, has to be disappeared. Why? His pitch: the circumstances that gave rise to our moon were wildly unlikely, a protoplanet crashed into our young Earth and created an utterly huge moon (by galactic standards); so if you're looking for aliens, forget Roswell or SETI, just look at the people around you on the path of totality during a solar eclipse. Because if there's one thing that an intelligent alien being probably cannot experience elsewhere, it's the total coolness of a perfect solar eclipse on a habitable world. 22:18, 20 April 2024 (UTC)
While some sunsets are incredibly cool, they happen often enough that it's not as thrilling. Partial eclipses have some unique features, like all the crescent-shaped shadows of tree leaves. Barmar (talk) 14:34, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
Well that would be the 'NFT Theory' of coolness, where a thing's coolness is proportional to it's rarity. I'd subscribe much more to an 'Inherence Theory' of coolness, and found that the experience of an eclipse (both partial and totality), while certainly more novel than sunsets, wasn't as cool. Especially when he specified 'a cool sunset' - so not just any sunset, but the top few percent - as compared against any old eclipse, regardless of conditions. 15:36, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
We shouldn't be comparing just the 'cool sunsets' (presumably just the right amount of clouds to be 'cool') with all the eclipse experiences, regardless of cloud cover. Like-for-like, most sunsets are rather unspectacular. It's quite easy to go "has the Sun actually set yet? I'll check the app... Wait, what's 'civil twilight', again?", but of course it's been a dim and overcast day and it's been dark enough to need lights for maybe an hour so the precise optical interaction between the Sun and horizon is just a minor detail, with nothing to see.
'Cool sunsets' are rare enough. A west-facing oceanic shoreline might be helpful (though a few bits of land-bound geography might also work), but you really need 'big skies' (without being totally free of cloud, just having enough in the right place to add to the effect). But you can find your tropical beach-hut (or prairie cabin, or mountain refuge) where perhaps they do happen reasonably often, and enjoy them frequently, or at least anticipate one the next evening or one so soon after.
Eclipses are so hard to be part of, and can be ruined at least as easily, but a 'cool one' has something you can't really expect to see again in any equivalent manner unless you make a lot more effort to do so.
And sunsets are probably best to be seen with the one (or few) closest people to you (if not alone, by preference). Eclipses (unless, again, you prepare to make your sole claim on a spot of your own choosing) are very much expected to be a communal event, congregating with total strangers (or, if 'lucky', many fellow members of your own eclipsed community) hoping to witness a suitable climax to the hopeful and festive event. 16:30, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
I agree that we shouldn't be compering cool sunsets with all eclipses, but that is what Randall has done. Even so, if you just compare cool sunsets and cool eclipses, for me, I think the sunsets win in terms of coolness. It's more repeatable, but that has no bearing on its coolness. 17:14, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
Randall is saying that a cool sunset is nothing like a full eclipse, of course. My car is nothing like the Enterprise (any of them), and there's really no comparison. Even if my car happens to be a Batmobile, Delorean, General Lee or Knight Industries Two-Thousand. 18:44, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
What Randall is saying is "Partial eclipse : total eclipse :: Cool sunset :: broken sky". The point is the comparison between two experiences in each pair, not equivalence between experiences. Barmar (talk) 18:57, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
The 1999(?) eclipse was not total at my house, and I blew it off, totally forgot, mowed my lawn. The light got very creepy, the grass looked odd, and shadows under trees showed crescents. Yes, leafy trees act as thousands of pinhole cameras. Not blatant, but once you see it you get it. This probably is my last "total", and the totality is only 3 hours away, and those folks are geared-up to take my money come clouds or shine, but I'll sit it out at 10% total (not hardly dark). --PRR (talk) 21:26, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
OK - I suppose you could read it that way, but in that case it's poorly written - it would have been clearer to say that a partial eclipse is to a cool sunset as a total eclipse is to a broken sky. 08:15, 3 April 2024 (UTC)

If you change the labels so that X-axis is people and Y-axis is money, it becomes a global wealth distribution chart with the richest 1% at the center of the X-axis. 22:39, 2 April 2024 (UTC)

What kind of "people" axis measurement would have the ones that feature high on money slap bang in the middle? I don't dispute the idea of a 1% (with maybe 99% of the wealth), but that'd usually be a blip at the far end of "population, ordered by wealth", or similar, not something with a central blip. ...so a point made, but not really related. 22:58, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
idk, I thought that maybe it made sense to have the richest at the center and the poorest progressively at the edges, because they're "marginalized" but maybe it was a dumb idea. Also, yep, totally unrelated. Just a thought that occured to me when I saw the chart. 23:07, 2 April 2024 (UTC)
It makes sense as a graph of vanity vs. being near to Carly Simon. "Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga, and your horse naturally won. Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia, to see the total eclipse of the sun." Obviously not everyone can afford to do that. Only the richest people. A less rich person would have to go to Nova Scotia on the horse. Robert Carnegie [email protected] 08:31, 4 April 2024 (UTC)

That graph is infinitely different from a Dirac delta. 14:23, 5 April 2024 (UTC)

Ya know, there was an eclipse the other day, wonder why so many comics were made about that, even this one, which is not an April Fool's Comic. Come on Randall, show some judgement... Z1mp0st0rz (talk) 16:52, 9 April 2024 (UTC)

Hmmm, according to that Forbes map, I'm on the edge of the Totality zone... Too bad I was asleep, LOL! Maybe I should have broken my routine to make SOME effort for once. :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 03:27, 20 April 2024 (UTC)

He forgot the singularity (might be hard to plot) of being inside a Concorde traveling at nearly the ground speed of the shadow and spending over an hour in total in totality. 19:46, 24 April 2024 (UTC)Anonymous Terry