An eclipse occurs when one heavenly body such as a Moon or the Sun moves into the shadow of another celestial body. There are two types of eclipses visible from Earth: an eclipse of the Moon and an eclipse of the Sun. Here is everything you need to know about both of these astronomical events.
What is a lunar Eclipse?
The Moon’s orbital tilt remains fixed with respect to the stars, meaning that it changes with respect to the Sun
The Moon doesn’t shine, it reflects sunlight shining on its surface – we just cannot always see it.
During a lunar eclipse, Earth’s heliocentric orbit places the planet between the Sun and the Moon, blocking the sunlight falling on the Moon.
There are actually two kinds of lunar eclipses: total and partial.
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A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon and Sun are on opposite sides of Earth.
And a partial lunar eclipse occurs when only some of Earth’s shadow covers the Moon.
During some stages of a lunar eclipse, the Moon can even appear an eerie rusty red colour.
This is because the only remaining sunlight reaching the Moon at that point is from around the edges of the Earth, as seen from the Moon’s surface.
From there, an observer during an eclipse would simultaneously see all Earth’s sunrises and sunsets.
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The reason why eclipses do not happen twice a month is the Moon’s orbit around Earth is tilted relative to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
A NASA statement explains why lunar eclipses take place at all.
The US space agency wrote: “Throughout the year, the Moon’s orbital tilt remains fixed with respect to the stars, meaning that it changes with respect to the Sun.
“About twice a year, this puts the Moon in just the right position to pass through the Earth’s shadow, causing a lunar eclipse.”
What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse takes place when the Moon moves between Earth and the Sun, causing our celestial orb to cast a shadow over Earth.
A solar eclipse can only take place during a New Moon phase, when Earth’s satellite passes directly between the Sun and Earth and its shadow falls on our planet’s surface.
But whether the alignment produces a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse or an annular solar eclipse is dependent on multiple factors.
The fact an eclipse can occur at all is a serendipity of celestial mechanics.
Since the Moon first formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago, it has been gradually moving away from Earth – by around 4cm (1.6 inches) – annually.
Right now the considerably nearer Moon is at the perfect distance to appear in our sky exactly the same size as the Sun.
The most dramatic and rarer eclipses are of the total variety, plunging parts of planet in an eerie darkness for a matter of minutes.
The sun’s 864,000-mile diameter is fully 400 times greater than that of Moon, which measures only about 2,160 miles across.
But the Moon also happens to be about 400 times closer to Earth than the Sun.
When are the next lunar and solar eclipses?
December 26, 2019: Annular solar eclipse (where the Moon covers the Sun’s centre).
January 10–11, 2020: Penumbral lunar eclipse (when the Sun, Earth, and the Moon are imperfectly aligned).
June 5–6, 2020: Penumbral lunar eclipse.
June 21, 2020: Annular solar eclipse.
July 4–5, 2020: Penumbral lunar eclipse.
November 29–30, 2020: Penumbral lunar eclipse.
December 14, 2020: Total solar eclipse.
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