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Solar eclipses have been associated with fear and fascination for the longest time now. There are some reasons why it is believed to be connected with good and bad things, but most of those are not relevant to the present time. So, what is an eclipse? It is a natural phenomenon or natural occurrence when three celestial bodies are aligned in a straight line, such that the celestial body in the middle casts a shadow on either of the bodies. But, that’s not all, there is a little more to this fascinating occurrence because of the varied sizes, and the orbits of the celestial bodies. Continue reading to know more about solar eclipses, including interesting facts for kids.
What Is a Solar Eclipse?
All of know that the earth orbits the sun and the moon orbits the earth. Therefore, there are chances of the three astronomical bodies getting aligned in a straight line. A solar eclipse occurs when the sun, the moon, and the earth align in a straight line (or an almost straight line) in that respective order. During the process, the moon casts an eclipse shadow on the part of the earth facing the sun.
For the observers on the ground, the moon and the sun should be in more or less the same place in the sky during the day. As the eclipse progresses, the moon passes between the sun and the earth casting a shadow on the ground. Depending on how much of the sun is covered by the moon, we could experience a partial, total, or annular solar eclipse.
Since the positioning of the astronomical bodies matters, solar eclipses do not occur as frequently. Because the orbital planes of earth and moon are tilted, we can only see up to 5 eclipses per year on different parts of the globe.
Eclipses also occur in seasons and cycles. A typical ‘season’ is a 35 day period when we can expect two or even three eclipses to occur and repeat after 6 months. This is why there is always a solar eclipse two weeks before or two weeks after a lunar eclipse. Eclipse cycles are a bunch of repeated eclipses separated by intervals of time.
A common question most parents get asked if all solar eclipses are the same. If your little one happens to ask you the question, you will would the information below quite helpful.
What Are the Types of Solar Eclipse?
Depending on the position of the sun, moon, and the earth, there are four types of solar eclipses that occur.
1. Total Solar Eclipse
- A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely covers the disc of the sun.
- As the moon inches closer to covering up the sun’s disc, the part of the earth that experiences daytime turns almost completely dark, and the temperature goes down.
- The sun’s outermost layer, the corona is visible during a total eclipse as a ghostly halo.
- The diamond ring effect or Baily’s beads are caused by the rugged mountainous terrain of the moon. Soon after the moon covers the sun’s complete disk, the diamond ring effect is seen and subsequently bead-like structures on the lunar surface as the light passes through the mountains.
- An annular solar eclipse is similar to a total solar eclipse, however, since the moon is slightly further away in its orbit it is unable to cover the entire disc of the sun.
- At its peak, an annular eclipse makes the sun look like a bright glowing ring of fire.
- Although most of the sun is covered, it does not become completely dark like in the case of a total solar eclipse.
- Annular eclipses can last from 5 to 12 minutes.
Hybrid Solar Eclipse
- A hybrid solar eclipse is a rare occurrence when some parts of the earth see a total eclipse, whereas some see an annular eclipse.
- Since the earth is almost spherical, during a hybrid eclipse, there are parts on earth that are close enough to the moon diametrically to see a total eclipse. The parts which are slightly further away see an annular eclipse.
Partial Solar Eclipse
- A partial solar eclipse occurs when the sun, the moon, and the earth are not perfectly lined up. This means only one part of the sun is eclipsed by the moon’s disc.
- Partial solar eclipses also occur in regions outside the path of totality.
Occurrence Of Solar Eclipse
As mentioned earlier, the sun the moon and the earth need to be alignment, with the moon in the middle. The alignment also depends on the size of the sun and moon, and the distances between them when they align in their orbits. Interestingly, the sun and the moon seem almost the same size because although the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon, it is also 400 times further away. Therefore, when you superimpose one on top of another, the moon covers the sun perfectly.
Also, solar eclipses can only occur on a new moon when the moon enters its phase where it is completely dark. In other words, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon is in the same part of the sky as the sun is, which is opposed to a full moon when the moon is exactly on the opposite side of the sun.
The reason why there isn’t a total solar eclipse every time is that the apparent size of the sun and the moon vary in the sky. As the earth goes around the sun in an elliptical orbit, the sun is 3 per cent bigger at its closest (perihelion) than it is at the furthest point (aphelion). The same effect is seen with the moon. When it is closer to earth (perigee) it looks 14% bigger than when it is at the furthest (apogee). Therefore, when the moon is at perigee, it can easily cover the entire disc of the sun resulting in a total solar eclipse. When the eclipse occurs with the moon is in apogee, it won’t be able to cover the sun’s entire disc resulting in an annular eclipse.
To understand what happens during a partial solar eclipse, it’s essential to understand the moon’s shadow. The shadow can be divided into three parts; The umbral region, the penumbral region and the antumbra. The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow, and an observer viewing from this region sees a total solar eclipse. Any observer who stands in the penumbral region of the shadow will see a partial eclipse where the sun isn’t fully covered. The antumbra is the shadow under which observers see an annular eclipse.
If all the information has got you excited to witness a solar eclipse, here’s some information about the solar eclipse schedule.
Solar Eclipse 2020 Schedule
There are two solar eclipses in 2020:
21 June 2020 Annular Solar Eclipse
- The next solar eclipse is primarily visible in large parts of Africa and Asia. The path of annularity is narrow and goes over central Africa, south-east Europe, Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean, most parts of Asia, and northern parts of Australia.
- The annular eclipse is visible in cities such as Impfondo (Congo), Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sind (Pakistan), Gharsana (Rajasthan, India), and Xiamen and Fujian (China), etc. The rest of Africa and Asia will see a partial eclipse.
- The total eclipse duration is about 6 hours and 15 minutes. It starts at 03:45:58 UTC and ends at 09:34:01 UTC.
14 December 2020 Total Solar Eclipse
- The last solar eclipse for 2020 passes the Pacific Ocean, South America, and the Atlantic ocean.
- This is a total solar eclipse, and the path of totality passes over Temuco and Villarrica in Chile, and in Piedra del Águila, Ministro Ramos Mexía, Sierra Colorada, and Junín de Los Andes in Argentina. The partial eclipse is visible over most parts of South America.
- This solar eclipse begins around 13:33:55 UTC and ends by 18:53:03 UTC and lasts for about 5 hours and 20 minutes.
This natural phenomenon is tempting, no doubt, but it cannot be witnessed as one would witness a lunar eclipse. Read on to know how you and your little one can witness a solar eclipse.
How to Watch a Solar Eclipse?
Watching a solar eclipse can be a highly rewarding experience depending on the methods used and the safety precautions taken. Before getting into the dos, the don’ts must first be laid out:
- Do not look at the sun with unshielded eyes.
- Do not look at the eclipse wearing sunglasses alone.
- Do not look at the eclipse through translucent plastic sheets, smoked glass, X-ray sheets, photo films, Polaroid filters or any material that is not designed to filter out solar radiation.
- Do not look at the sun/eclipse through any optical instruments such as cameras, binoculars or telescopes that are ‘unfiltered’.
Safe Ways to View a Solar Eclipse
1. Eclipse Glasses
These are the best option you have if you wish to look at the sun directly and comfortably. Eclipse glasses use special filter material that is safe for viewing the sun without straining the eyes. They are available inexpensively at hobby stores, museums, or online.
2. Welders Glass #14 or Darker
Welder’s glass comes close to what is ‘acceptable’ for short periods of viewing the sun. Make sure you purchase #14 or darker to ensure most of the sun’s rays are blocked out. Hold the glass in front of your eyes and look through for a few seconds and look away to give your eyes a break. Do not use welder’s glass with optical instruments.
3. Commercial Solar Filters
The most popular solar filters with enthusiasts are the Baader filter, aluminised polyester, and metal-coated glass. The first two are available online as sheets and are perfect for making custom filters for optical instruments. They can also be used to make custom eclipse glasses.
4. Pinhole Projection
A pinhole camera is a clever contraption most children would have built as a school project. They are also excellent for projecting solar eclipses. A pinhole punched into an index card can neatly project an image of the sun three or four feet behind the card. A long carton box can be turned into a pinhole camera to make a brighter projection for a small crowd to see.
5. Viewing From Local Astronomy Club or Planetarium
If you are unsure about the best way to go about viewing the eclipse, you can always head to a local astronomy club or planetarium. Watching with other amateur astronomers and sky gazers will not only give you an opportunity to get the best views of the eclipse but also learn a great deal about it.
6. Optical Instruments
If you have a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, make a solar filter for the front end of the instrument (the objective) using commercial solar filter paper. Make a circular cardboard disk that fully and securely covers the objective of the instrument. Cut out a small breach in the centre of the disk and cover it securely with the solar filter paper. This mask for the instrument would reduce most of the sun’s rays from entering the instrument while keeping it bright enough for comfortable viewing.
7. Online Viewing
If your location is cloudy or you are unable to view the eclipse directly, you can always tune into popular channels that broadcast the eclipse live.
Fun Facts About Solar Eclipse
Here are some solar eclipse fun facts for kids:
- During a partial or total solar eclipse, the shadows under trees show thousands of tiny little crescents instead of the usually bright and dark regions. This is because the light coming through tree leaves are subject to the pinhole effect, and the shadow below is an actual image of the eclipse.
- The eclipse shadow can travel at high speeds. Close to the equator they can go at 1,100 mph while at the poles they can race at 5,000 mph!
- A Saros Cycle is when identical eclipses occur every 18 years.
- There are perceivable weather changes during a total or annular solar eclipse. The temperature drops and the wind begins to get chilly like it is the night before getting back to normal in about an hour.
- Total solar eclipses confuse both plants and animals. Birds are often seen flying back to their nests, and tree leaves droop to prepare for the night.
- The path of totality can be as wide as 269 miles and sweep a total distance of over 10,000 miles in one total eclipse.
- The Babylonians recorded the earliest solar eclipses using the saros cycle. Their clay tablets contain the first mentions of a solar eclipse which was observed on May 3, 1375, BC.
- The ancient Chinese believed that the sun was eaten up by a dragon during a total solar eclipse. It was their tradition to bang drums and pots to scare off the dragon.
- At some point in China, solar eclipses were associated with success and health. According to a legend, two Chinese astronomers, Ho and Hsi, were executed by the emperor of China in 2134 BCE after they failed to predict the solar eclipse. If they had predicted it, it would have been the oldest solar eclipse ever recorded.
- The moon is moving away at a rate of 2 cm every year from the earth. At this rate, in about 600 million years it will be so further away from that there will be no more total solar eclipses
A solar eclipse is a celestial phenomenon which occurs as a consequence of the moon passing in between the sun and the earth, casting a shadow on the earth. They can be predicted years in advance and viewed by all with proper equipment and safety guidelines.