A solar eclipse is a rare event. It occurs when the shadow of the Moon passes over the sun. Curiously, the shadow of the Moon sometimes fits perfectly over the sun during a total eclipse. Its distance from the sun creates another one of those “Goldilocks” factors: it’s just right. However, many of us rarely see a total eclipse. Usually we might observe a partial eclipse or an annular eclipse.
During a partial eclipse the sun only covers a portion of the sun. It appears a lot like a waxing or waning moon. You’ll notice that it’s darker outside, but some sunlight will always remain.
An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon passes across the disk of the sun, but because it is in a farther orbit the shadow does not completely block the sun. There is still a ring of the sun around the Moon’s shadow that is quite bright relative to the almost complete darkness of a total eclipse.
Are you an eclipse groupie?
If you live in North America you might think you’re in luck on March 20, 2015. That’s when a total eclipse is going to take place. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go to Nova Scotia or the Northwest Territories of Canada to see it. And maybe you’re one of those people who do. There are many solar eclipse enthusiasts who literally follow the eclipse on trips and cruise ships to view an eclipse. These eclipse groupies keep meticulous logbooks and are expert at both viewing and photographing them, and that’s important.
Safe Viewing of an eclipse
When the day comes that you can view an eclipse, be forewarned. You don’t ever want to stare at the sun, even during a total eclipse. The radiation that continues to emit from our star can cause permanent blindness or an irreversible blind-spot. Even with something as dark as a welder’s mask, there is risk. There are safe ways to view an eclipse, but perhaps the safest is to videotape it or photograph it. If you have the proper videotape setup, you can watch it live on your computer screen.
Will you see an eclipse from your backyard?
In case you’re thinking an eclipse should be on your bucket-list, here’s a schedule of when the next eclipses are going to take place from 2014 thru 2020. Many of them are difficult to get to, and the “totality” only occurs for a few minutes. In 2017 a total eclipse will pass across the entire length of the United States, but it’s a narrow band measured in less than 100 miles so check the link before you get out the lawn chair. After that, most eclipses are on the other side of the planet. For some it’s worth the trip. For many of the rest us we can watch one live on the Internet or download photos. I’ve seen a solar eclipse a few times so I’m going to stay close to home for the next 6 years. Then again, I’ve always wanted to go to Iceland.
NASA’s schedule of Solar Eclipses from 2014 to 2020:
(Click on the dates to see a global map of the path of the eclipse and local times)
2014 Oct 23 Partial – North Pacific and North America
2015 Mar 20 Total – Iceland, Europe, North Africa, North Asia
2015 Sep 13 Partial – East Asia, Australia, Pacific Ocean
2017 Feb 26 Annular – southern South America, Atlantic Ocean, Africa Antarctica
2017 Aug 21 Total – North America, northern South America
2018 Feb 15 Partial – Antarctica, southern South America
2018 Jul 13 Partial – South Australia
2018 Aug 11 Partial – Northern Europe, Northeast Asia
2019 Jan 06 Partial – Northeast Asia, North Pacific Ocean
2019 Jul 02 Partial – South Pacific Ocean, South America
2019 Dec 26 Annular – Asia, Australia
2020 Jun 21 Annular – Africa, Southeast Europe, Asia
2020 Dec 14 Total – Pacific Ocean, southern South America, Antarctica