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4 December 2002, a total solar eclipse occurred in the north of the Limpopo province in South Africa.

Path of the 2002 solar eclipse

What is a total solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves directly between the sun and the earth.

When you look at the sun and the moon in the sky, you quickly notice a strange but wonderful coincidence: both have apparently the same size - the sun and the moon seem to have both a diameter of one-half degree.

Ok, sure, they are not really the same size.

The diameter of the sun is in fact 400 times the diameter of the moon. But, the sun is also 400 times further away from the earth than the moon, which makes their respective diameters look the same.

When you are on the earth, looking up at the sun and the moon, you must be in a very specific and limited zone to see the moon cover completely the face of the sun.

The match is so good that the moving "path of totality" (the shadow of the moon on the surface of the earth) is never more than 167 miles of diameter - usually less, depending on the exact distance of the moon at the time.

Path of the 2002 total solar eclipse

The 2002 Solar Eclipse in South Africa

A total eclipse of the Sun occurred for up to 80 seconds over Southern Africa (and Australia) on 2002 December 04, in a narrow strip running across the Southern African subcontinent.

Leaving Beitbridge at the border of Zimbabwe, the 2002 eclipse crosses quickly over South Africa, in the Venda area and the north of the Kruger National Park.

Map of the 2002 eclipse over Africa

The three diagonal lines on the map above and below mark the area where the total eclipse is seen in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The top and bottom lines mark the edge of the path of totality. The width of the solar eclipse path within the path of totality is approximately 70 kilometres. The central line marks the centre of the eclipse, where the duration of the total eclipse is also the longest. The closer of the line you are, the better - in term of duration of the "dark sun".

Totality on 2002 December 04 lasts about one minute and twenty seconds on the centre line of the eclipse path. The time where you can see the total eclipse decreases as you are located away from the centre line. The duration of totality reaches zero at the edge of the path of totality, marked by the diagonal lines (top and bottom).

To see a total solar eclipse, you have then to be just in the right spot on the earth.

The solar eclipse in Messina - South Africa

To see this second total solar eclipse of the new millennium, the place we chose is very close to Messina (South Africa), last town before the border, and beginning of the area of the baobabs.

Map of the path of totality in South Africa

For viewers located in the path of totality in South Africa, the Sun rises almost vertically into the sky. It moves then through an angle of 15 degrees every hour.

At 07h20 SAST (South African Standard Time - GMT+2), at the start of the eclipse, the Sun is at an azimuth of 104 degrees East of North, and an elevation of 29 degrees above the horizon. In the middle of the full eclipse at about 08h22, it is at azimuth 100 degrees and elevation 40 degrees. At 09h30, just before the end of the eclipse, the Sun is at azimuth 96 degrees and elevation 59 degrees.


Total Solar Eclipse of December 2002

What they said:

“Nothing there is beyond hope,...

nothing that can be sworn impossible, nothing wonderful, since Zeus, father of the Olympians, made night from mid-day, hiding the light of the shining Sun, and sore fear came upon men."

Archilochus (Greek poet, 680-640 BC)

“In addition to this, there is evidence for the truth...

of what I have stated in the observed facts with regard to total eclipses of the sun; for when the centre of the sun, the centre of the moon, and our eye happen to be in one straight line, what is seen is not always alike; but at one time the cone which comprehends the moon and has its vertex at our eye comprehends the sun itself at the same time, and the sun even remains invisible to us for a certain time, while again at another time this is so far from being the case that a rim of a certain breadth on the outside edge is left visible all round it at the middle of the duration of the eclipse. Hence we must conclude that the apparent difference in the sizes of the two bodies observed under the same atmospheric conditions is due to the inequality of their distances (at different times)."
Aristotle (Greek, 384-322 BC) in "Metaphysics"