Astronomy for Kids
Lunar and Solar Eclipses
What is an eclipse?
An eclipse occurs when one object in space blocks an observer from seeing another object in space. From Earth there are two main types of eclipses: solar eclipses and lunar eclipses.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon
passes in front of the Sun causing a shadow to fall on certain portions of the Earth. The eclipse is not seen from every place on Earth, but only from the locations where the shadow falls. From these locations, it appears as if the Sun has gone dark.
There are three main parts of the Moon's shadow during an eclipse called the umbra, penumbra, and antumbra.
Types of Solar Eclipses
- Umbra - The umbra is the portion of the Moon's shadow where the Moon completely covers the sun.
- Antumbra - The area of the shadow beyond the point of the umbra. Here the Moon is completely in front of the Sun, but doesn't cover the entire Sun. The outline of the Sun can be seen around the shadow of the Moon.
- Penumbra - The area of the shadow where only a portion of the Moon is in front of the Sun.
Depending on what part of the shadow you are located in, there are three types of eclipses:
Don't Look at A Solar Eclipse
- Total - A total eclipse is where the Sun is covered completely by the Moon. The portion of the Earth that is in the umbra experiences a total eclipse.
- Annular - An annular eclipse is when the Moon covers the Sun, but the Sun can be seen around the edges of the Moon. An annular eclipse occurs when the viewer is within the antumbra.
- Partial - A partial eclipse is when only a portion of the Sun is blocked by the Moon. It occurs when the observer is within the penumbra.
We should warn you here to never look directly at a solar eclipse. Even though it appears darker, the harmful rays of the Sun can still damage your eyes.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow. Lunar eclipses have the same three phases or types as solar eclipses including the umbra (total), antumbra (annular), and penumbra (partial).
Lunar eclipses can be seen by a much larger area of the Earth than solar eclipses. They also can be viewed without special equipment to protect the eyes. Lunar eclipses are not totally dark. The Moon will reflect some sunlight that is refracted by the Earth's atmosphere. The light that is refracted is reddish in color and can cause the Moon to appear a dark brownish-red.
Eclipses in Ancient Times
Eclipses have been tracked and recorded by astronomers since ancient times by such civilizations as the Ancient Babylonians
and the Ancient Chinese
. Eclipses were often thought to be signs from the gods.
Interesting Facts about Eclipses
- The word "eclipse" comes from the Greek word "ekleipsis" which means "abandonment" or "downfall."
- The longest that a solar eclipse will last is seven and a half minutes.
- The most solar eclipses of any type that can occur on Earth within a year is five.
- A total solar eclipse occurs about every 1.5 years.
- Animals sometimes become confused and behave strangely during a total eclipse of the Sun.
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