A solar eclipse is a type of eclipse that occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks (“occults”) the Sun. This can happen only at new moon, when the Sun and the Moon are inconjunction as seen from Earth in an alignment referred to as syzygy. In a total eclipse, the disk of the Sun is fully obscured by the Moon. In partial and annular eclipses only part of the Sun is obscured.
If the Moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to the Earth, and in the same orbital plane, there would be total solar eclipses every single month. However, the Moon’s orbit is inclined (tilted) at more than 5 degrees to Earth’s orbit around the Sun (see ecliptic) so its shadow at new moon usually misses Earth.
Earth’s orbit is called the ecliptic plane as the Moon’s orbit must cross this plane in order for an eclipse (both solar as well as lunar) to occur. In addition, the Moon’s actual orbit is elliptical, often taking it far enough away from Earth that its apparent size is not large enough to block the Sun totally. The orbital planes cross each year at a line of nodes resulting in at least two, and up to five, solar eclipses occurring each year; no more than two of which can be total eclipses.
However, total solar eclipses are rare at any particular location because totality exists only along a narrow path on Earth’s surface traced by the Moon’s shadow or umbra.
Special eye protection or indirect viewing techniques must be used when viewing a solar eclipse to avoid eye damage.
When at a spot from which a ‘total eclipse’ is visible, an observer can see a number of exciting effects. One such effect occasionally seen is Baily’s Beads where a sequence of spots of light appears along the edge of the Moon. This is caused by the sun shining through the valleys of the Moon’s mountainous regions
The following table shows the upcoming total solar eclipses for the next few years:
|20 March 2015
||North Atlantic regions, Faroe Islands and the North Pole
|9 March 2016
|21 August 2017
||Parts of the mid- and west USA
|2 July 2019
||central Argentina, Chile, the Tuamotus (French Polynesia), parts of the South Pacific Ocean
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