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Can you see a solar eclipse from earth

Editor's note: The last total solar eclipse occurred on Dec. Read our full coverage here. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, and the moon casts a shadow over Earth. But whether the alignment produces a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse or an annular solar eclipse depends on several factors, all explained below. The fact that an eclipse can occur at all is a fluke of celestial mechanics and time.

SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Total Solar Eclipse: 360 VR Video Seen From Space - Earth From Space - BBC Earth

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SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Total Solar Eclipse March 29, 2006 Anatalya, Turkey

The What: A Solar Eclipse

Any solar eclipse is an interesting event, but a total solar eclipse is the most spectacular astronomical phenomenon that you'll ever see. Looking at the Sun, at any time, is dangerous; and that applies during a solar eclipse, just as it does on any normal day.

So don't forget to read about eclipse eye safety. As we've said, a solar eclipse always occurs at the New Moon. Usually the Earth and Moon aren't lined up right to cause an eclipse; but once in a while basically once every 6 months , the Sun, Moon, and Earth are lined up well enough so that the Moon's shadow falls on the Earth. This is what causes a solar eclipse.

You can learn why an eclipse doesn't happen every New Moon by reading about eclipse cycles. As explained in Mechanics of Solar Eclipses , the Moon's shadow during a solar eclipse has two parts:. This means that a partial eclipse is usually seen over quite a large area of the Earth; but when a total eclipse occurs, it is only visible from a small part of the Earth whereas its accompanying partial eclipse is seen over a much larger area.

However, the shadow isn't simply a "spot" on the Earth; due to the movement of the Earth and Moon, and rotation of the Earth, the shadow actually races across the Earth's surface at around two thousand miles per hour, causing the Moon's shadow to "write" a long track across the Earth. As an illustration of this, the following map shows the area of the Earth which will be touched by the Moon's shadow during the total solar eclipse on 21 August, The large green area is the area touched by the penumbra, which first touches the Earth in the west, where the Sun is just rising, moves west-to-east, and leaves the Earth again a few hours later, in the east where the Sun is just setting.

In this area, a partial eclipse will be seen. The narrow red band is the area touched by the umbra; that is, the track of the total eclipse across the Earth, known as the path of totality.

The reason that the partial eclipse area is rounded at the north is that the penumbra almost falls off the "top" of the Earth and into space. The reason that this doesn't happen exactly at the North Pole is that the eclipse occurs in summer, so the Earth is tilted towards the Sun at the north. What you will see depends, of course, on the type of eclipse partial or total ; but also on where you are relative to the eclipse.

The following sections describe what you can see during an eclipse; since a partial eclipse and the partial stages of a total eclipse are essentially the same, both are described here. During a partial eclipse, or the partial stages of a total eclipse, the first sign of the eclipse on Earth is when the Moon's disc first touches the Sun; this moment is known as First Contact. At First Contact, the Moon begins to take a "bite" out of the Sun; as the eclipse goes on, this "bite" gets larger and larger.

In a total eclipse, as the moment of totality approaches, and the Sun is nearly covered, shadow bands might be seen; narrow bands of shadow and light racing across the ground.

These are multiple images, caused by irregular refraction in the Earth's atmosphere, of the remaining "slice" of the Sun. If you are standing near or under trees, you may see multiple images of the crescent Sun being projected on the ground by the "pinhole camera" effect of the leaves. This is actually something you can see on a normal sunny day, when circular Sun images can be projected on the ground; but during an eclipse, the projected crescents can be very distinctive.

Try holding up a colander during the crescent phases of the eclipse to see this effect! As the Moon moves to cover the Sun, events proceed very rapidly. The Moon's shadow may be seen rushing in very quickly from the west. The remaining crescent of the Sun gradually shrinks to a sliver, and then breaks up into distinct points of light, known as Baily's Beads ; these are caused by the Sun shining through valleys around the visible face of the moon, for a few seconds before totality.

Because the Moon isn't equally "rough" all the way round, the display of Baily's Beads isn't consistent, but depends on the angle from which the Moon approaches the Sun.

The Moon's irregularity can also have an effect on the duration and width of the total eclipse. When only one point of light is left, a beautiful diamond ring effect may be observed, with the last brilliant point of light transfixed on the Moon's outline. Then this last glimmer vanishes, as the leading side or limb of the Moon touches the farther limb of the Sun, at a moment known as Second Contact. This is the first instant of the total eclipse. During totality, the sky goes dark; not quite as dark as night, and with strange shadow effects caused by scattered light from the edge of the eclipse; the horizon still appears quite light, and the whole landscape takes on a strange appearance.

Birds go home to roost, bees stop flying, and some flowers may begin to close as if for the night; Nature seems to hold its breath. In the sky above hangs the black disc of the Moon, surrounded by a faint halo, like a negative Sun. The Sun's corona , far too faint to be seen at any time other than a total eclipse, streams out from the Moon in all directions; some streamers reach several times the size of the Sun before fading away.

For a few seconds after the beginning of totality, and again just before the end, the Sun's lower atmosphere, the chromosphere , may be seen, as a reddish glow around the edge of the Moon.

Some solar prominences may also be seen, as spectacular arcs of glowing red gas around the Sun. Apart from the eclipse, the sky at totality is well worth a look. Around the Sun, with the sky nearly dark, some of the brighter stars, and particularly planets, may be seen. This may also be a rare chance to see Mercury, since it is normally too close to the Sun; depending on its position, it may be visible near the Sun.

The end of the total eclipse is the reverse of the beginning. Totality ends at Third Contact , the moment at which the Moon begins to uncover the Sun. Once again, a diamond ring, Baily's Beads, and shadow bands may be seen. After third contact in a total eclipse, or in the later stages of a partial eclipse, the Sun is progressively uncovered by the Moon, and normal daylight returns.

The shadow on the Sun shrinks until it vanishes altogether at the moment of Fourth Contact. So what about an annular eclipse? What's that all about? An annular eclipse is effectively similar to a total eclipse described above, except that it occurs during a point in the Moon's orbit when it is farther away from the Earth than average.

This means that the Moon is too small to cover the Sun up completely, so even though the Moon is right in front of the Sun, there's a ring of visible Sun around the edge of the Moon. Still, an annular eclipse will make an interesting sight. Like a total eclipse, an annular eclipse is accompanied by a partial eclipse covering a much larger area.

A hybrid eclipse is an eclipse that is right on the boundary between total and annular; so much so that the eclipse starts as annular, changes to a total eclipse, then changes back to an annular eclipse again before the end. The path of totality will be very narrow in a hybrid eclipse. People in the path near the middle of the eclipse will see a total eclipse, but normally this will be a very short-lived eclipse; people near the ends of the path of totality will see an annular eclipse.

A partial eclipse can last anything from a few minutes for a very small eclipse to a few hours for a larger eclipse ; the duration you will see will depend on how close you are to the centre of the eclipse, with the longest duration near the centre. The same applies to the partial stages of a total eclipse; however, the real spectacle is the total phase.

To see this, you have to be within the path of totality ; then you will see a total eclipse which could last from a few seconds to a few minutes, up to very rarely 7 minutes or more.

In the 21st century, the longest total solar eclipse will be on the 22nd of July , in China, at 6 minutes 39 seconds; the next is the eclipse of the 2nd of August, , in Africa and the Middle East, at 6 minutes 23 seconds. The longest total eclipse will be seen in the centre of the path of totality; the duration falls off away from the centre, and very rapidly near the edges. So, if you're on the edge of the path of totality, you'll see a very short total eclipse; but get reasonably close to the centreline, and you should see close to the maximum duration.

So that's what a solar eclipse is all about; but don't forget to read about how to observe an eclipse , and eye safety during an eclipse. If you're interested in learning more about how these different types of eclipse work, you can go and read about the mechanics of eclipses. Copyright C Ian Cameron Smith.

Last modified: UTC.

The What: A Lunar Eclipse

There will be two solar eclipses in First, an annular eclipse, commonly referred to as a "ring of fire," will pass over Africa and Asia on June Then on Dec.

One of the coincidences of living on Earth at the present time is that the two most prominent astronomical objects, the Sun and the Moon , have nearly the same apparent size in the sky. As a result, the Moon, as seen from Earth, can appear to cover the Sun, producing one of the most impressive events in nature.

Courtesy Prof. Patricia Reiff , the Rice Space Institute. Only during full moon and new moon is the Moon in a line with the Earth and Sun. The plane of the Moon's orbit around the Earth is not exactly the same as the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun, so the Moon as seen from the Earth generally passes over or under the Sun during times of new Moon. Only twice a year, when the orbits cross, at the "nodes", are eclipses possible, called "eclipse seasons"; even then, the Moon also has to be in the right place in its orbit to yield an eclipse.

Solar eclipse guide 2020: When, where & how to see them

A solar eclipse occurs when a portion of the Earth is engulfed in a shadow cast by the Moon which fully or partially blocks sunlight. This occurs when the Sun , Moon and Earth are aligned. Such alignment coincides with a new moon syzygy indicating the Moon is closest to the ecliptic plane. 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 new moon. However, since the Moon's orbit is tilted at more than 5 degrees to the Earth's orbit around the Sun , its shadow usually misses Earth. A solar eclipse can only occur when the Moon is close enough to the ecliptic plane during a new moon. Special conditions must occur for the two events to coincide because the Moon's orbit crosses the ecliptic at its orbital nodes twice every draconic month

Do Other Planets Have Solar Eclipses?

While not as spectacular as a solar eclipse , a lunar eclipse can still be a beautiful and amazing spectacle. It's also a lot easier to see a total lunar eclipse than its solar equivalent! A lunar eclipse always occurs at night, during a Full Moon ; you should be able to see the eclipse if it occurs during your nighttime, and you have a view of the Moon. But what you will see depends on the specific type of the eclipse. By the way, since a lunar eclipse occurs at night, when the Sun isn't around, it's always safe to look at a lunar eclipse.

A Space Place Trivia Alert!

As Earthlings, we have the privilege of ooohing and aaahing at total solar eclipses, those dazzling celestial events in which the moon blocks the sun's light from hitting our planet. But is Earth the only world in our solar system that experiences this spectacular phenomenon? The answer is no.

Seeing a Solar Eclipse From Space

A solar eclipse is a spectacular sight and a rare astronomical event. Each one is only visible from a limited area. An eclipse of the Sun happens when the New Moon moves between the Sun and Earth, blocking out the Sun's rays and casting a shadow on parts of Earth.

SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: A solar eclipse can cook your eyes: How to watch safely

This illustration shows the Moon passing through Earth's shadow during a typical lunar eclipse. The Moon is slightly tinted when it passes through the light outer portion of the shadow, the penumbra, but turns dark red as it passes through the central portion of the shadow, called the umbra. Solar eclipses result from the Moon blocking the Sun relative to the Earth; thus Earth, Moon and Sun all lie on a line. Lunar eclipses work the same way in a different order: Moon, Earth and Sun all on a line. In this case the Earth's shadow hides the Moon from view.

Lunar Eclipses and Solar Eclipses

The Moon continues to move in front of the Sun, until only a small crescent of light can be seen. The sky begins to darken as the crescent of the Sun remains in the sky. Thin wavy lines called Shadow Bands appear on plain surfaces on the ground. As the crescent disappears, tiny specks of light are visible around the edge of the Sun. Suddenly the sky is dark, but if you look toward the horizon you will see a reddish glow which looks like a Sunset. When the total eclipse of the Sun is completed, the shadow of the Moon passes and sunlight appears once again at the western edge of the Sun. Daylight returns and the Moon continues to orbit the Earth.

Solar eclipses result from the Moon blocking the Sun relative to the Earth; thus Earth Lunar eclipses can only happen when the Moon is opposite the Sun in the sky, As a result, you are more likely to see a lunar eclipse than a solar eclipse.

Any solar eclipse is an interesting event, but a total solar eclipse is the most spectacular astronomical phenomenon that you'll ever see. Looking at the Sun, at any time, is dangerous; and that applies during a solar eclipse, just as it does on any normal day. So don't forget to read about eclipse eye safety.

On Earth, a total solar eclipse means that for just a few minutes, the sky goes dark. But what does a total solar eclipse look like from space? A solar eclipse happens when, at just the right moment, the moon comes between the sun and Earth.

There are close to confirmed moons orbiting six major planets in our solar system Mercury and Venus lack moons. But any given spot on our planet's surface gets darkened by the Moon's shadow on average only once about every years, so in that sense totality is indeed rare. The Sun is also on average about times farther away. This truly remarkable coincidence is what gives us total solar eclipses.

By Vigdis Hocken and Aparna Kher. Total solar eclipses occur when the New Moon comes between the Sun and Earth and casts the darkest part of its shadow, the umbra, on Earth.

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