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Solar Eclipses have long captured the imagination. It is not surprising when you consider that when you see one you are witnessing the almost complete blotting out of the Earth’s primary source of light. However not everyone knows what happens during a solar eclipse. This article will help you know more about the how and why of the process.
A Solar Eclipse involves three celestial bodies to happen. In our case, it is the Earth, the Sun, and most importantly the Moon. All three have their prescribed orbits but when they hit a certain alignment they cause an eclipse. A solar eclipse will happen when the moon blocks out the sun.
So when do you need to look out for a solar eclipse? There tend to be only a few per year but there are specific times of the month when they are likely to appear. Solar eclipses generally happen during the New Moon phase of the month. Of course pay attention to the news. Then reason is that a solar eclipse can only be viewed in certain regions. This is unlike lunar eclipses which can be seen from any part of the night side of the Earth.
Another interesting fact is there is more than one kind of solar eclipse. The first is the one everyone is familiar with, the complete solar eclipse. During this type of eclipse the sun is completely blocked out by the moon with only its corona being visible. However, there are also partial eclipses. The first type is the annular eclipse. This is when the moon seems smaller than normal. Even though covered a bright ring of the sun remains visible. This is called an annulus. Another type is the partial eclipse which makes the sun more often to look like a crescent. The last type is a hybrid that shifts from a total to an annular eclipse.
While very rare, Solar Eclipses have been tracked for as long as astronomy has existed. Astronomers in several civilizations not only got very good at recording when they occurred; they also perfected how to predict future ones. However it was not until modern times that astronomers came to realize that eclipses happened more often than first assumed. It is just that they happen at different locations. There are even people who make vacations of travelling to the locations where solar eclipses will occur.
We have written many articles about the Solar Eclipse for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the annular solar eclipse, and here are some amazing solar eclipse pictures.
We’ve also recorded related episodes of Astronomy Cast about Eclipses. Listen here, Episode 160: Eclipses.