Facts About Solar Eclipses


Totality - the point of a solar eclipse at which the moon blocks out the sun
Totality – the point of a solar eclipse at which the moon blocks out the sun
Click image for larger version
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Solar eclipses are rare events that happen when the Moon aligns itself between the Earth and the Sun blocking the Sun’s light and casting a shadow over the Earth.

When the eclipse begins and the shadow only shows slightly over the Sun, it will continue to move across the Sun at a speed of 2,250 kilometres an hour along a path called the line of totality.

When the shadow completely fills the Sun it reaches a stage called totality and darkness falls. This dark stage where the whole of the Sun is consumed can last up to seven and a half minutes until the shadow begins to move back across the other side of the Sun.

The corona of the Sun is the only visible part of the Sun during totality – this is the outer atmosphere of the Sun that is rarely seen and gives off a shimmering quality.

Other types of solar eclipses are the annular eclipse where the Moon’s orbit takes it far enough away from the Earth that it is too small to completely block out the Sun during an eclipse, and the partial eclipse where only a portion of the Sun it covered by shadow.




Read on for more fascinating solar eclipse facts.

The longest a total solar eclipse can last for is 7.5 minutes, but this is usually a lot less (sometimes half the time).

Total eclipses happen every 1 or 2 years but there is such a small window on the Earth where these can be viewed it is rare to see a total eclipse. Partial solar eclipses happen 2 or 3 times a year.

Darkness falls on the earth as the sun's light is obscured by our own moon
Darkness falls on the earth as the sun’s light is obscured by our own moon
Click image for larger version
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Total eclipses can only occur due to a strange coincidence that the Sun and the Moon both appear to be the same size in the sky when viewed even though there are vastly different sizes and are located many millions of miles away from each other.

The width of the path of totality is approximately 167 miles wide and partial solar eclipses can be seen 3,000 miles from the track of totality.

Total solar eclipses cannot be seen from the North or South Pole – you could only see partial solar eclipses from these locations.

Temperatures can drop by 20 degrees Celsius nearing totality.

A total solar eclipse is not noticeable until the Sun is covered 90% by the Moon. When the Moon covers the Sun by 99% the sky resembles twilight.

Bonus fun fact

Nearing or during totality, birds and animals can be seen to behave strangely due to the sudden darkening in the sky. Some animals have even been known to prepare for sleep!

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