There are four types of solar eclipses: total, partial, annular, and hybrid, and all of them can only occur during a new moon. During a total solar eclipse, the moon completely blocks the sun so only the aurora of the sun peaks through. The aurora looks like a circle of light around the black moon. A partial solar eclipse is more common than a total solar eclipse, and it happens when part of the sun is blocked, which is what we will observe this August. An annular solar eclipse happens when the sun, earth, and moon line up, but the moon is farther away from the Earth than the previous eclipses. So, the outer rim of the sun and the aurora are visible. A hybrid solar eclipse is the rarest of all, and it happens when the eclipse is annular over some parts, and total over others.
There are three kinds of lunar eclipses: total, partial, and penumbral, and all of them can only occur during a full moon. Before the types can be understood, it is important to learn about the Earth’s shadow, which is composed of the umbral and penumbral shadow. The umbral shadow is where none of the sun’s light reaches the moon, and the prenumbral is where only part of the sun’s light is blocked. During a total lunar eclipse, the moon passes through the Earth’s umbral shadow, and it appears as a red-orange color. During a partial lunar eclipse, part of the moon passes through Earth’s umbral shadow, so part of the moon looks shadowed, but overall the moon is its usual color. A partial lunar eclipse, unlike many other types of eclipses, can be viewed across an entire hemisphere of Earth, instead of in specific locations. A prenumbral lunar eclipse, the moon passes through Earth’s prenumbral shadow, meaning that the sun’s light does not directly hit the moon. Instead, the suns light reflects off of the surface of the Earth, which leads to a shadow on the moon. These kinds of eclipses are very easily missed by people who aren’t carefully looking.
A solar eclipse is defined by the moon passing in front of the sun and blocking it, casting a shadow on our planet. It’s very awesome that this can happen at all for a few reasons.
One reason is that the moon needs to be big enough to block the sun, or appear to be. In reality, the sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon, but it is also about 400 times farther away. That’s why the sun and the moon look about the same size. This is a very lucky coincidence because Earth is the only planet in our solar system able to view a solar eclipse like this (Exploratorium 2017).
The next thing that needs to happen for a solar eclipse is that the sun, moon, and Earth all need to be in a straight line during a new moon, which only happens about every 18 months. Then, to see the eclipse, one needs to be standing on the correct place on Earth, which is why some people see total eclipses while others see partial ones.
Scientists have been mapping the path of the Earth around the sun and the path of the moon around the Earth and the sun for a very long time, and have developed software to be able to predict the paths in the future. They have found that eclipses only occur during a special period known as “eclipse season” which is when the sun appears close to the path of the moons orbit. The eclipse season for solar eclipses is about 32 days long.
Ancient civilizations had many different myths or ideas about what caused eclipses to occur.
There are two stories they ancient Greeks told. One said the sky darkened during a battle between the Medes and Lydians in Anatolia, in 585 B.C., and both sides called a truce as a result of the darkened sky. The other, which is written about in Homer’s Odyssey, describes eclipses to be a bad omen that happened when the gods were angry.
Viking mythology stated that the apocalypse would be brought on from two wolves, Sköll and Hati, that wanted to eat the sun and moon. Sköll chased and sun, and Hati the moon. When either was caught and swallowed, the result was an eclipse. The Vikings would them make as much noise as possible to scare the wolves away.
The ancient Chinese believed that eclipses occurred when a dragon ate the sun, so they would make noise to stop the dragon.
The ancient Egyptians do not have any writings about eclipses, even though the worshipped the sun. The hypothesis is that they were too afraid of eclipses or saw them as a bad omen too dark to be written about.
The ancient Maya were able to predict solar eclipses, shown by researchers in 2013. They predicted an eclipse that occurred on July 11, 1991! Most all of the written records about solar eclipses were destroyed, but it is known that eclipses were known as chi’ ibal kin, translating to ‘to eat the sun.’
There are many more stories of myths or legends that other peoples believed, but these were some of the more well-known stories.
All living organisms eat or make food to stay alive, and most of this food comes directly or indirectly from the sun. Plants and algae use the sun for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process used to convert light energy into chemical energy that the organism can use to fuel its daily activities. Then, humans and other animals eat plants to use the energy to stay alive. So even when humans eat meat, they are eating an animal that got its energy from plants to stay alive! Now it’s clear that photosynthesis is very important for life on Earth to continue. So, because photosynthesis is fueled primarily by the sun, would a solar eclipse affect it in any way? Well, yes! The solar eclipse blocks the amount of sunlight reaching a plant, so the rate of photosynthesis slows down. The same thing happens at night, because the light reflected off of the moon is not strong enough for photosynthesis to occur. Photosynthesis even slightly slows down on a cloudy day, which is why it’s very important for a plant to get as much sunlight as possible!