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It’s A Total Solar Eclipse! August 21, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Sun

total eclipse of the sun is when the moon passes between the sun and the earth and partially or completely blocks out the sun. These occurrences are not as rare as one might think. A solar eclipse occurs on the earth about once every 18 months. The eclipse travels over a very narrow path on the earth and is only visible if you are in that limited band of the complete shadow of the moon hitting the face of the earth. It is usually only 60 or 70  miles wide. Even if there is a total eclipse in the next state, that does not mean you will see any of it.

How Often?

So how often can you expect to see a total eclipse in your location? The possibility of one occurring in your hometown may be rare.  Some locations on the earth may have to wait 36 centuries to see a total eclipse of the sun. Although a 40-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast of Angola experienced a total solar eclipse on June 21, 2001, and then again in less than 18 months on Dec. 4, 2002. So the correct answer is it depends.

But if you miss this total solar eclipse you will have to wait until April 8, 2024 to see the next one in the United States.

Location of the Moon

Another factor for a solar eclipse is the location of the moon in our sky. Sometimes it may be further away from the sun. If this is the case, we will not get a total eclipse even though the moon is completely in front of the sun. An annular solar eclipse occurs when parts of the sun or a ring of sunlight will be visible around the edges of the moon at the height of the eclipse.

The moon is moving away from the sun about 1.5 inches every year. In the far future, a total eclipse of the sun will not be possible. Since this far future is about 600 million years in the future, it is doubtful that we should worry too much about it. However, our occasional total solar eclipse is a problem to the wildlife in the area. Their confusion, due to the total darkness during the day coupled with a significant drop in temperature during the eclipse, is easy to understand.

Since the total solar eclipse will last at a maximum of 7.5 minutes, taking advantage of the sight if it ever appears in your area is imperative. On the other hand, viewing a total lunar eclipse, while being a momentous sight, is not as exciting. It might last up to 1.5 hours and can be seen by anyone on the night side of the earth. Whereas a solar eclipse is only visible if you are in the narrow band of the complete shadow of the moon hitting the face of the earth.

Another way of understanding the difference is that if the moon is between the sun and the earth, we get a solar eclipse. If the earth is between the sun and the moon, we get a lunar eclipse.

Lunar Eclipse

lunar eclipse

A lunar eclipse occurs when the earth’s shadow falls across the moon. The earth will get about 1.5 lunar eclipses per year. The earth does not get a lunar eclipse every month as the moon’s orbit path is not exactly in line with the earth. This is due to the location of the sun and moon and earth. The shadow of the earth may occur in space so the lunar eclipse is not seen on earth. There is always a shadow, just not necessarily on the moon.

The next total lunar eclipse visible in North America will occur on Jan 31, 2018. However, this will only be visible in the far western portion of North America. If you wait until January 21, 2019, the total lunar eclipse will be visible in all of North America. Just be hopeful that the sky is clear and the clouds do not obscure the eclipse. If it is a rainy night, you will have to wait for at least another year till Jully 5, 2020.

Precautions

Precautions are needed during a solar eclipse as our eyes are not made to withstand the tremendous glare of the sun on our retina. Purchase your solar eclipse glasses now! If you look directly at the sun during the solar eclipse it may be the last thing you ever see. No sight is worth that! Don’t forget to get your eclipse glasses! A total eclipse of the sun has not crossed the continental US since 1918. If you ever want to see a total eclipse, now is the time.


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