It is a coincidence of nature that the apparent sizes of the sun and of the moon in Earth’s sky are about the same. (The moon’s distance from the Earth has been increasing over hundreds of millions of years at about 4 meters per century and will continue to do so, so this is a temporary arrangement.) Thus, on those rare occasions when the orbital motion of Earth and moon cause them to align with the sun, as seen from points on Earth, the moon will just cover the surface of the sun and day will suddenly become night. Those who are located in the converging lunar shadow that just reaches Earth will see a total eclipse of the sun. The converging shadow cone, within which the sun is completely hidden by the moon, the umbral shadow of the moon.
One can imagine a diverging cone with the moon at its apex in which only part of the sun is covered by the moon. This shadow is called the penumbra, or partially dark shadow. People on Earth located in this shadow will see the sun partially obscured or covered by the moon. Such an eclipse is called a partial solar eclipse.
Because the base of this shadow cone is far larger than the umbral shadow, far more people see partial solar eclipses than see total solar eclipses. However, the impact on the observer of a total solar eclipse is far greater. Even a nearly total solar eclipse permits a small fraction of the solar surface to be visible, but covering the bright photosphere completely drops the light-level to a millionth of its normal value. During totality one can safely look directly at the sun and its corona, but this should not be done outside of totality during any partial or annular phases. The photospheric surface of the sun is so bright, its focused image on the retina of the eye can do permanent damage to an individual’s vision, including total blindness. Even viewing the sun through colored or smoked glass should be avoided, for the filter may pass infrared or ultraviolet light not obvious to the observer, but it can still do extensive damage. While specially designed “sun filters” may provide viewing safety, the safest approach to looking at the sun is projecting its image from a small telescope or monocular onto a screen. Direct viewing and photographs of the projected image can then be made in relative safety.
To the observer of a total solar eclipse many strange phenomena are apparent at the same time. The progressive coverage of the solar photosphere by the moon reduces the solar heating of Earth, causing the local temperature to fall. The drop in temperature
|Table of eclipses 1995–2010|
|Date||Type of eclipse||Time of mid eclipse EST*||Duration of eclipse**||Total length of eclipse||Region of visibility†|
|*Eastern Standard time is used for convenience. Since the path of a Solar Eclipse spans a good part of the Earth, only an approximate time to the nearest hour is given the mid-point of that path.|
|**The time of the eclipse duration is for maximum extend of totality, except for annular eclipses where it marks the maximum duration of the annular phase. †The visible location of lunar eclipses is approximately half the globe where the Moon is visible. For convience, the globe has been split into eastern and western hemispheres. Depending on the time of mid-eclipse, more or less of the entire eclipse may be visible from the specified hemisphere.|
|Apr. 15, 95||Lunar-Partial||7:19 AM||—||1 h 12 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Apr. 29, 95||Solar-Annular||1 AM||6 min 38 sec||—||Pacific S. America|
|Oct. 24, 95||Solar-Total||Midnight||2 min 10 sec||—||Asia, Borneo, Pacific Ocean|
|Apr. 3, 96||Lunar-Total||7:11 PM||86 min||3 h 36 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Sep. 26, 96||Lunar-Total||9:55 PM||70 min||3 h 22 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Mar. 8, 97||Solar-Total||8 PM||2 min 50 sec||—||Siberia|
|Mar. 23, 97||Lunar-Partial||11:41 PM||—||3 h 22 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Sep. 16, 97||Lunar-Total||1:47 PM||62 min||3 h 16 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Feb. 26, 98||Solar-Total||Noon||4 min 8 sec||—||W. Pacific, S. Atlantic|
|Aug. 21, 98||Solar-Annular||9 PM||3 min 14 sec||—||Sumatra, Pacific Ocn.|
|Feb. 16, 99||Solar-Annular||2 AM||1 min 19 sec||—||Indian Ocn., Australia|
|Jul. 28, 99||Lunar-Partial||6:34 AM||—||2 h 22 min||Europe-Asia|
|Aug. 11, 99||Solar-Total||6 AM||2 min 23 sec||—||Atlantic Ocn., Europe-Asia|
|Jan. 20, 00||Lunar-Total||11:45 PM||76 min||3 h 22 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Jul. 16, 00||Lunar-Total||8:57 AM||106 min||3 h 56 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Jan. 9, 01||Lunar-Total||3:22 PM||60 min||3 h 16 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Jun. 21, 01||Solar-Total||7 AM||4 min 56 sec||—||S. Atlantic, S. Africa|
|Jul. 5, 01||Lunar-Partial||9:57 AM||2 h 38 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Dec. 14, 01||Solar-Annular||4 PM||3 min 54 sec||—||Pacific Ocn., Cent. Amer.|
|Jun. 10, 02||Solar-Annular||7 PM||1 min 13 sec||—||Pacific Ocn.|
|Dec. 4, 02||Solar-Total||3 AM||2 min 4 sec||—||Indian Ocn., Australia|
|May 15, 03||Lunar-Total||10:41 PM||52 min||3 h 14 min||W. Hemisph.|
|May 30, 03||Solar-Annular||11 PM||3 min 37 sec||—||Iceland & E. Arctic|
|Nov. 8, 03||Lunar-Total||8:20 PM||22 min||3 h 30 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Nov. 23, 03||Solar-Total||6 PM||1 min 57 sec||—||Antarctica|
|May 4, 04||Lunar-Total||3:32 PM||76 min||3 h 22 min||E. Hemish.|
|Oct. 27, 04||Lunar-Total||10:05 PM||80 min||3 h 38 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Apr. 8, 05||Solar-Annular-||4 PM||42 sec||—||N. Central, Pacific Ocn.|
|Oct. 3, 05||Solar-Annular||6 AM||4 m 32 sec||—||Atlantic Ocn., Spain, Africa|
|Oct. 17, 05||Lunar-Partial||7:04 AM||—||56 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Mar. 29, 06||Solar-Total||5 AM||4 min 7 sec||—||Atlantic Ocn., Africa, Turk.|
|Sep. 7, 06||Lunar-Partial||1:52 PM||—||1 h 30 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Sep. 22, 06||Solar-Annular||7 AM||7 min 9 sec||—||N.E. of S.Amer. Atlant.|
|Mar. 3, 07||Lunar-Total||6:22 PM||74 min||3 h 40 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Aug. 28, 07||Lunar-Total||5:38 AM||90 min||3 h 32 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Feb. 6, 08||Solar-Annular||11 PM||2 min 14 sec||—||S. Pacific, Antarctic|
|Feb. 20, 08||Lunar-Total||10:57 PM||50 min||3 h 24 min||W. Hemisph.|
|Aug. 1, 08||Solar-Total||5 AM||2 min 28 sec||—||Arctic-Cand., Siberia|
|Aug. 16, 08||Lunar-Partial||4:11 PM||—||3 h 8 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Jan. 26, 09||Solar-Annular||3 AM||7 min 56 sec||—||S. Atlantic, Indian Ocn.|
|Jul. 21, 09||Solar-Total||10 PM||6 min 40 sec||—||East Asia, Pacific Ocn.|
|Dec. 31, 09||Lunar-Partial||2:24 PM||—||1 h 00 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Jan. 15, 10||Solar-Annular||2 AM||11 min 10 sec||—||Africa, Indian Ocn.|
|Jun. 26, 10||Lunar-Partial||6:40 AM||—||2 h 42 min||E. Hemisph.|
|Jul. 11, 10||Solar-Total||3 PM||5 min 20 sec||—||Pacific Ocn., S. America|
|Dec. 21, 10||Lunar-Total||3:18 AM||72 min||3 h 28 min||W. Hemisph.|
is accompanied by a rise in humidity and often a wind change. The covering of the central part of the sun’s disk also brings about a subtle color shift toward the yellow. In the final seconds before totality the last bright regions of the sun’s disk shine through the valleys at the limb of the moon, causing bright spots called “Baily’s Beads.” As the last of these disappear, the blood-red upper atmosphere of the sun called the chromosphere will briefly appear before it too is covered, revealing the winding, sheet-white corona that constitutes the outer atmosphere of the sun and is less bright than the full moon.
Birds roost and animals behave as if night had truly arrived. All the senses are assaulted at once both by the changes in the local environment and the changes to the sun. A solar eclipse makes such an impression on people that it is said St. Patrick used one to convert the Celtic Irish to Christianity in the fifth century. The ancient historian Herodotus reported that a total solar eclipse that occurred during a battle between the Lydians and the Medes in 585 BC caused the soldiers to throw down their weapons and leave the field. Otherwise professional astronomers have been known to stand and stare at the phenomenon, forgetting to gather the data they have practiced for months and traveled thousands of miles to obtain.
Outside the narrow band traced across Earth by the tip of the moon’s umbral shadow, part of the sun will be covered from those located in the expanding cone of the lunar penumbral shadow. An eclipse seen from such locations is said to be a partial solar eclipse. If the moon is near its farthest point from Earth, its dark umbral shadow does not quite reach Earth. Should this occur when the alignment for a solar eclipse is correct, the bright disk of the sun will only be partially covered. At the middle of the eclipse a bright annulus of the solar photosphere will completely surround the dark disk of the moon. Such eclipses are called annular eclipses and may be considered a special case of a partial solar eclipse. Since part of the photosphere is always visible, one never sees the chromosphere or corona and the sky never gets as dark as during a total solar eclipse. However, there is a definite change in the color of the sunlight. Since the visible photosphere at the limb of the annularly eclipsed sun is cooler and more yellow than the center of the solar disk, the effect is for the daylight color to be shifted to the yellow. The effect is quite pronounced for eclipses occurring around local noon.
Because the area on Earth covered by the moon’s umbra during a total eclipse is so small, it is quite rare for an individual to see one even though their frequency of occurrence is somewhat greater than lunar eclipses. Lunar eclipses occur when the moon passes into the shadow cast by Earth. During a lunar eclipse, the bright disk of the full moon is progressively covered by the dark disk of the umbral shadow of Earth. If the eclipse is total, the moon will be completely covered by that shadow. Should the alignment between the sun, earth, and moon be such that the moon simply grazes Earth’s umbra, the eclipse is called a partial. Lunar orbital paths that pass only through the penumbral shadow of Earth are called penumbral lunar eclipses. The dimming of the moon’s light in these eclipses is so slight that it is rarely detected by the human eye so little notice of these eclipses is made.
Since the moon is covered by the shadow of Earth, any point on Earth from which the moon can be seen will be treated to a lunar eclipse. Thus they are far more widely observed than are total eclipses of the sun. However, because the sun is so much brighter than the full moon, the impact of a total lunar eclipse is far less than for a total solar eclipse. Unlike a solar eclipse where the shadow cast by the moon is totally dark, some light may be refracted by Earth’s atmosphere into Earth’s umbra so that the disk of the moon does not totally disappear during a total lunar eclipse. Since most of the blue light from the sun is scattered in the atmosphere making the sky blue, only the red light makes it into Earth’s umbral shadow. Therefore, the totally eclipsed moon will appear various shades of red depending on the cloud cover in the atmosphere of Earth.
Lunar eclipses do not occur every time the moon is full, nor do solar eclipses happen each time the moon is new. Although the line-up between the sun, earth, and moon is close at these lunar phases, it is not perfect. The orbital plane of the moon is tipped about five degrees to the orbital plane of Earth. These two planes intersect in a line called the line of nodes. That line must be pointed at the sun in order for an eclipse to occur. Should the moon pass by the node between
Anomalistic month— The length of time required for the moon to travel around its orbit from its point of closest approach to Earth and back again.
Chromosphere— The bright red “color sphere” seen surrounding the sun as a narrow band when the photosphere is obscured.
Corona— A pearly white irregular shaped region surrounding the sun. It is visible only when the photosphere and chromosphere are obscured.
Node— The intersection of the lunar orbit with the plane of Earth’s orbit about the sun.
Nodical month— The length of time required for the moon to travel around its orbit from a particular node and back again.
Penumbra— From the Greek term meaning “partially dark.” Within the penumbral shadow part of the light source contributing to the eclipse will still be visible.
Photosphere— From the Greek term meaning “light-sphere.” This is the bright surface we associate with sunlight.
Saros— A cycle of eclipses spanning 18 years and 11 days first recorded by the Babylonians.
Synodic month— The time interval in which the phases of the moon repeat (from one full moon to the next), and averages 29.53 days.
Umbra— From the Greek meaning dark. Within the umbral shadow no light will be visible except in the case of Earth’s umbral shadow where some red sunlight may be refracted by the atmosphere of the Earth.
Earth and the sun while the line of nodes is aimed at the sun, the alignment between the sun, moon, and Earth will be perfect and a solar eclipse will occur. If the moon passes through the node lying beyond Earth when the line of nodes is properly oriented, we see a lunar eclipse.
Except for slow changes to the moon’s orbit, the line of nodes maintains an approximately fixed orientation in space as it is carried about the sun by Earth’s motion. Therefore, about twice a year the line of nodes is pointing straight at the sun and eclipses can occur. If the alignment is closely maintained during the two weeks between new moon and full moon, a solar eclipse will be followed by a lunar eclipse. A quick inspection of the table of pending eclipses shows that 20 of the 47 listed eclipses occur within two weeks of one another, indicating that these are times of close alignment of the line of nodes with the sun. A further inspection shows that these pairs occur about 20 days earlier each year indicating that the line of nodes is slowly moving westward across the sky opposite to the annual motion of the sun. At this rate it takes about
18.6 years for the nodes to complete a full circuit of the sky. Thus every 18-19 years eclipses will occur at about the same season of the year. After three of these seasonal cycles, or 56 years, the eclipses will occur on, or about, the same day. It is this long seasonal cycle that Gerald Hawkins associated with the 56 “Aubry Holes” at Stonehenge. He used this agreement to support his case that Stonehenge was used to predict eclipses and the Aubry Holes were used to keep track of the yearly passage of time between seasonal eclipses.
There are other cycles of eclipses that have been known since antiquity. It is a reasonable question to ask how long it will be before an eclipse will re-occur at the same place on Earth. The requirements for this to happen are relatively easy to establish. First, the moon must be at the same phase (i.e., either new or full depending on whether the eclipse in question is a solar or lunar eclipse). Secondly, the moon must be at the same place in its orbit with respect to the orbital node. Thirdly, the sun and moon must have the same distance from Earth for both eclipses. Finally, if the solar eclipses are to have similar paths across Earth, they must happen at the same time of the year. The first two conditions are required for an eclipse to happen at all. Meeting the third condition assures that the umbral shadow of the moon will reach Earth to the same extent for both eclipses. This means that the two eclipses will be of the same type (i.e., total or annular in the case of the sun). The last condition will be required for solar eclipses to be visible from the same location on Earth.
The interval between successive phases of the moon is called the synodic month and is 29.5306 days long. Due to the slow motion of the line of nodes across the sky, successive passages of a given node, called the nodal month, occur every 27.2122 days. Finally, successive intervals of closest approach to Earth (i.e., perigee passage) are known as the anomalistic month, which is 27.55455 days long. For the first three conditions to be met, the moon must have traversed an integral number of synodic, nodical, and anomalistic months in a nearly integral number of days. One can write these constraints as equations whose solutions are integers. However, such equations, called Diophantine equations, are notably difficult to solve in general. The ancient Babylonians found that 223 synodic months, 242 nodical months, and 239 anomalistic months all contained about 6, 585 1/3 days, which turns out to be just 11 days in excess of 18 years. They referred to the cycle as the Saros cycle, for it accurately predicted repeats of lunar eclipses of the same type and duration. However, the cycle missed being an integral number of days by about eight hours. Thus, solar eclipses would occur eight hours later after each Saros, which would be more than enough to move the path of totality away from any given site. After three such cycles, sometimes referred to as the Triple Saros, lasting 54 years and a month, even the same solar eclipses would repeat with fairly close paths of totality. Since the multiples of the various months do not exactly result in an integral number of days, the repetitions of the eclipses are not exactly the same, but they are close enough to verify the predictability and establish the cycles. The Babylonians were able to establish the Saros with some certainty. Their ability to do so supports Hawkins’ notion that the people who built Stonehenge were also capable of establishing the seasonal eclipse cycle.
It is tempting to look for cycles of even longer duration in search of a set of synodic, nodical, and anomalistic months that would yield a more close number of days, but such a search would be fruitless. There are other subtle forces perturbing the orbit of the moon so that longer series of eclipses fail to repeat. Indeed, any series of lunar eclipses fails to repeat after about 50 Saros or about 870 years. Similar problems exist for solar eclipses.
See also Calendars.
Chaisson, Eric, and Steve McMillan. Astronomy Today. 5th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2004.
Schaefer, B.E. “Solar Eclipses that Changed the World.” Sky & Telescope 87 (1984): 36-39.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. “NASA: Eclipse Home Page.” 2006. <http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html> (accessed October 25, 2006).
George W. Collins, II
An eclipse is a phenomenon in which the light from a celestial body is temporarily obscured by the presence of another.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is aligned between the Sun and Earth. The trace of the lunar shadow (where the solar eclipse is visible) is less than 270 km (168 mi) wide. A partial eclipse is visible over a much wider region. When the Moon is further away from Earth, the lunar disc has a smaller visible diameter than the solar disc, so a narrow ring of the Sun remains uncovered, even when the three bodies are aligned. This produces an annular solar eclipse. The ratio between the visible lunar and solar diameters is called the magnitude of the eclipse. At the beginning of the solar eclipse, the Moon progressively covers the solar disk. Illumination of Earth's surface rapidly diminishes. The air temperature falls a few degrees. Seconds before the totality of the eclipse, shadow bands appear. Shadow bands are irregular bands of shadow, a few centimeters wide and up to
a meter apart, moving over the ground. The diamond ring phase of the eclipse then shines for few seconds and later, Bailey's beads appear on the solar limb. Bailey's beads are a string of bright beads of light produced by the uneven shape of the lunar limb.
In the first two to three seconds of the total phase of the eclipse (totality), the chromosphere is visible as a pink halo around half of the limb. Maximal duration of the totality varies from eclipse to eclipse, up to 7.5 minutes. The brightest stars and planets are observable on the sky during the totality. Prominences are the brightest objects visible continuously during the totality. They are clouds of relatively cold (10,000K) and dense matter with the same properties as that of the chromosphere matter. They emit in lines of hydrogen, helium and calcuim, which produce the pink color of prominences and the chromosphere, and can always be observed in monochromatic light.
White corona can be observed from Earth only during total solar eclipses, because its intensity is much lower than the brightness of the sky. It has several components emitting in the entire visible region of spectra. The K- (Electron or continuum) corona is due to scattering of sunlight on free high-energy electrons, which are at a temperature of 1 million degrees, and contain continuous spectra and linear polarization of the light. The K-corona dominates in the corona, have distinct 11-year cycles, and have variable structures depending on the level of solar activity. During the solar maximum, it is circular. During the solar minimum, it is symmetrical and elongated in the equatorial region, while
in the polar regions, it has bunches of short rays or plumes. During intermediate phases, it has asymmetric structure with many streamers of different lengths. The F- (Fraunhofer or Dust) corona is due to scattering of sunlight on dust particles. An F-corona has Fraunhofer spectra with absorption lines. Due to heating of dust particles close to the Sun, the F-corona evaporates, producing a large cavity in the dust distribution. An F-corona has oval shape. Its intensity decreases slowly with the distance from the Sun, and it predominates over the K-corona at long distances. The F-corona reaches near-Earth space , producing Zodiacal light (a faint conical glow extending along the ecliptic, visible after sunset or before sunrise in a dark, clear sky). The Thermal (T) corona is due to thermal emission of dust particles heated by the Sun.
Solar corona also have components emitting linear spectrum. The E- (Emission) corona is due to emission lines of highly ionized atoms of iron , nickel, and calcium. The E-corona intensity decreases rapidly with its distance from the Sun and is visible up to a 2-solar radius in monochromatic light. The S- (Sublimation) corona, was recently found, but as of 2002, its existence is still debatable. It consists of emission of low ionized atoms of Ca(II) produced by sublimation of dust particles in relatively cold parts of the corona. All these components are visible together in the corona during total eclipses.
The last and most mysterious component of the corona is giant coronal streamers observed only from the orbital coronagraph LASCO and from stratospheric flights during total eclipses. The giant coronal streamer shape and properties are
different from those of any other component of the corona. Animations of their timed development look similar to visualizations of gusts of solar wind . In the last few years, evidence has arisen demonstrating that its nature is the same as that of plasma tails of comets , fluorescence of ionized gas molecules (originated by evaporation of comets near the Sun), and is due to interaction with the solar wind and sunlight. This component of the corona is called Fluorescent (Fl) corona, but this hypothesis needs further scientific verification. The corona is divided arbitrarily to Internal corona (up to 1.3 radius), which can be observed any time by coronagraph, Medium (1.3-2.3 radius), and External corona (over 2.3 radius) where F-corona dominates. Edges of the corona gradually disappear in the background of the sky. Therefore, the size of the corona greatly depends on the spectral region of observations and clearness of the sky.
Lunar eclipses occur when the Moon passes into Earth's shadow. The Moon does not normally disappear completely; its disc is illuminated by light scattered by the Earth's atmosphere. Color of the lunar eclipse depends highly on the composition of the atmosphere (amount of ozone and dust). The full shadow (umbra) cast by Earth is surrounded by a region of partial shadow, called the penumbra. Some lunar eclipses are visible only as penumbral, other as partial. The length of the Moon's path through the umbra, divided by the Moon's diameter, defines the magnitude of a lunar eclipse.
See also Coronal ejections and magnetic storms
eclipse (ēklĬps´, Ĭ–) [Gr.,=failing], in astronomy, partial or total obscuring of one celestial body by the shadow of another. Best known are the lunar eclipses, which occur when the earth blocks the sun's light from the moon, and solar eclipses, occurring when the moon blocks the sun's light from a small portion of the earth. Occasionally a double or binary star system is aligned so that one star eclipses the other as seen from the earth; these stars are known as eclipsing binaries. Also important to science have been the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites; in 1675 the Danish astronomer Ole Roemer used these eclipses to calculate the speed of light. Observations of starlight passing near the sun during the 1919 solar eclipse were of particular value in validating Einstein's general theory of relativity.
Since the earth and moon shine only by the reflected light of the sun, each casts a shadow into space in the direction away from the sun. The shadow consists of a cone-shaped area of darkness called the umbra, where all light from the sun is cut off, and a larger area of partial darkness called the penumbra, which surrounds the umbra and receives light from a part of the sun's disk. Lunar eclipses can occur only when the moon is in its full phase, i.e., when the earth is between the sun and the moon. These eclipses may be total or partial, depending on whether the moon passes completely into the umbra of the earth's shadow or remains partly in the penumbra. Since the moon cuts the umbra close to the base, it can experience long periods of total eclipse ranging up to 1 hr, 42 min. A partial eclipse (when it passes through the penumbra) can last more than 2 hr, and the entire lunar eclipse may continue for as long as 4 hr. Some light is refracted, or bent, by the earth's atmosphere into the umbra, so that the moon at totality, instead of appearing black, ranges from a dull gray to a coppery color, depending on the amount of dust in the earth's atmosphere.
A total solar eclipse can occur only when the moon is in its new phase. At this time the moon is between the sun and the earth and cannot be seen until it moves across the sun's disk. At the onset of totality, parts of the sun may be seen shining brightly between the high points of the moon's irregular edge, a phenomenon known as Baily's beads; the disk of the moon appears black and is surrounded by the sun's corona, out of which shoot immense, flamelike spurts called prominences. The sky darkens to twilight, the brightest stars become visible, and there is a noticeable drop in temperature. Baily's beads are seen again as the sun reappears and the sky grows lighter.
At apogee (when the moon is at its farthest point from the earth) the umbra of its shadow is too short to reach the earth's surface, causing the apparent diameter of the sun's disk to be larger than that of the moon. Where the moon would otherwise block the sun entirely, now the sun is seen as a bright ring completely surrounding the moon's disk; this eclipse is known as an annular, or ring, eclipse. The longest possible duration of totality for a solar eclipse is 7 min, 40 sec at or near the equator when the sun is directly overhead; the duration decreases with increasing latitude. The eclipse of June 20, 1955, lasted 7 min, 8 sec, which was the longest duration of totality in 1,238 years; an eclipse almost as long occurred on July 11, 1991.
Frequency and Prediction of Eclipses
If the plane of the moon's orbit about the earth coincided with that of the earth about the sun, a solar eclipse would be observed each month when the moon is new and a lunar eclipse when the moon is full. However, the moon's orbital plane is tilted at an angle of about 5°10′ to the earth's orbital plane, making eclipses possible only when the three bodies are aligned (at new or full moon) and when the moon is crossing the earth's orbital plane (at a point called the node). Within a given year, a maximum of seven eclipses can occur, either four solar and three lunar or five solar and two lunar. Despite the fact that there are more solar than lunar eclipses each year, over time many more lunar eclipses are seen at any single location on earth than solar eclipses. This occurs because a lunar eclipse can be seen from the entire half of the earth facing the moon at that time, while a solar eclipse is visible only along a narrow path on the earth's surface.
From their observations of eclipses the Chaldaeans (fl. 1000 BC–540 BC) discovered that similar eclipses of the sun recur in cycles of 18 years, 111/3 days; this cycle, called the saros, is an interval in which the sun, earth, and moon return to nearly identical relative positions. Since the orbits of the earth and moon are quite accurately known, eclipses can be predicted far in advance, both in time and location. Similar calculations can determine the time and place of past eclipses; this information is useful for dating historical events that are known to have occurred at the same time as an eclipse.
An eclipse refers to the complete or partial blocking of a celestial body by another body and can be used to describe a wide range of phenomena. Solar and lunar eclipses occur any time the Sun, the Moon, and Earth are all positioned in a straight line. This is an uncommon occurrence because the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun is different than that of the plane of the Moon's orbit around Earth. Thus, the Moon is usually located just above or below the imaginary plane of Earth's orbit.
Although the Sun is 400 times larger the Moon, the Moon is 400 times closer to Earth. Thus, when the Moon's orbit takes it in front of Earth, it blocks the Sun from view, creating a solar eclipse. During a lunar eclipse, the opposite happens: Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon, casting a shadow on the Moon. A solar eclipse is visible only during the day, while a lunar eclipse is visible only at night. Lunar eclipses are more common and last longer than solar eclipses, and can be viewed from everywhere on the planet at night.
An eclipse may be partial, total, or annular (where one object covers all but the outer rim of another); and it may be barely noticeable or quite spectacular. The planes of Earth's orbit and the Moon's orbit
coincide only twice a year, signaling an eclipse season. Only during a small percentage of eclipse seasons do total eclipses occur.
During a solar eclipse, the Moon's shadow sweeps across Earth. The shadow has two parts: the dark, central part called the umbra, and the lighter region surrounding the umbra called the penumbra. Those people standing in a region covered by the umbra witness a total eclipse; those in the penumbra see only a partial eclipse.
Words to Know
Corona: The outermost atmospheric layer of the Sun.
Lunar eclipse: Occurs when Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon, casting a shadow on the Moon.
Penumbra: From Latin, meaning "almost shadow"; partial shadow surrounding the umbra during an eclipse.
Prominence: High-density cloud of gas projecting outward from the Sun's surface.
Solar eclipse: Occurs when the Moon passes between Earth and the Sun, casting a shadow on Earth.
Umbra: From Latin, meaning "shadow"; the completely dark portion of the shadow cast by Earth, the Moon, or other celestial body during an eclipse.
The type of solar eclipse depends on the distance of the Moon from Earth. The Moon's orbit, like Earth's, is elliptical (oval-shaped). At some points along its orbit, the Moon is closer to Earth than at others. In order for a total eclipse to occur, with the umbra reaching Earth, the Moon must be at a close point on its orbit. If the Moon is too far away, it appears smaller than the Sun and one of two things may happen. First, only the penumbra may reach Earth, creating a partial eclipse. The other possibility is that the Moon will appear to be centered within the Sun. When this occurs, a ring of brilliant sunlight, like a ring of fire, appears around the rim of the Moon. This is known as an annular (ring) eclipse.
The first stage of a solar eclipse, when the Moon just begins to cover one edge of the Sun, is called first contact. As the Moon shifts across the Sun's face, the sky begins to darken. At the same time, bands of light and dark called shadow bands race across the ground. Just before second contact, when the Moon completely blocks out the Sun, a final flash of light can be seen at the edge of the Sun, an effect called the diamond ring.
Then, at totality, all sunlight is blocked, the sky turns dark, and the planets and brighter stars are visible. During this period, the Sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, is visible as a halo. The weak light given off by the corona (about half the light of a full moon) is normally not visible because it is overpowered by the light of the Sun's surface. Prominences, jets of gas that leap from the Sun's surface, are also visible during the total eclipse. After a few minutes, the Moon begins to pass to the other side of the Sun, signaling an end to the solar eclipse.
A lunar eclipse can occur only when the Moon lies behind Earth, opposite the Sun, and is fully illuminated. As the Moon crosses into Earth's umbra, it does not become totally hidden. The reason is that gas molecules in Earth's atmosphere refract or bend the Sun's light around the surface of the planet, allowing some of it to reach the Moon. Because the wavelengths of red light are refracted less, the Moon will appear various shades of red during a lunar eclipse.
If the entire Moon falls within the umbra, the result is a total lunar eclipse. If only part of the Moon passes through the umbra, or if it only passes through the penumbra, a partial lunar eclipse occurs. A partial lunar eclipse may be difficult to detect since the Moon dims only slightly.
[See also Calendar; Moon; Sun ]
e·clipse / iˈklips/ • n. an obscuring of the light from one celestial body by the passage of another between it and the observer or between it and its source of illumination: an eclipse of the sun. ∎ fig. a loss of significance, power, or prominence in relation to another person or thing: the election result marked the eclipse of the traditional right and center. • v. [tr.] (often be eclipsed) (of a celestial body) obscure the light from or to (another celestial body): as the last piece of the sun was eclipsed by the moon. ∎ deprive (someone or something) of significance, power, or prominence: the state of the economy has eclipsed the environment as the main issue. PHRASES: in eclipse losing or having lost significance, power, or prominence: his political power was in eclipse.
Eclipse ★½ 1994
Sexual roundelay set in Toronto shortly before a total solar eclipse, which is apparently affecting all the generally listless characters in such a way that they meet and mate in joyless abandon. First feature for Podeswa. 96m/C VHS . CA GE Von Flores, John Gilbert, Pascale Montpetit, Manuel Aranguiz, Maria Del Mar, Matthew Ferguson, Earl Pastko, Greg Ellwand, Daniel MacIvor, Kirsten Johnson; D: Jeremy Podeswa; W: Jeremy Podeswa; C: Miroslaw Baszak; M: Ernie Tollar.