What causes a solar eclipse

Eclipses: What Is the Umbra?

what causes a solar eclipse

An eclipse happens when one astronomical body blocks light from or to another. In a lunar eclipse, the Moon moves into the shadow of Earth cast by the Sun.

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Editor's note: The next total solar eclipse will occur over Chile and Argentina on July 2, See our full coverage here. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, and the moon casts a shadow over Earth. But whether the alignment produces a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse or an annular solar eclipse depends on several factors, all explained below. The fact that an eclipse can occur at all is a fluke of celestial mechanics and time.

But whether the alignment produces a total solar eclipse, a partial solar eclipse or an annular solar eclipse depends on several factors.
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A Space Place Trivia Alert! While we call it a solar eclipse , astronomers call it an occultation. An occultation happens when an object blocks your view of another object. In this case, the moon blocks your view of the sun. That means during the day, the moon moves over the sun and it gets dark. This total eclipse happens about every year and a half somewhere on Earth. In this picture, the moon is covering up the sun in the middle of the day.

For thousands of years, solar and lunar eclipses have captivated humans. Different cultures around the world have sought to understand the celestial events occurring in the sky through the creation of stories and rituals. Today, scientists have a stronger grasp on the astronomical factors that cause eclipses. Solar and lunar eclipses occur because of the changing positions of the earth, sun and moon in relationship to one another. Ancient cultures held different beliefs about the causes of solar and lunar eclipses. For many, eclipses were fearful celestial occurrences that carried portents of evil. The ancient Chinese believed that a dragon devoured the sun during a solar eclipse.

How & Why Solar Eclipses Happen

What Causes Lunar and Solar Eclipses?

There are close to confirmed moons orbiting six major planets in our solar system Mercury and Venus lack moons. But any given spot on our planet's surface gets darkened by the Moon's shadow on average only once about every years, so in that sense totality is indeed rare. The Sun is also on average about times farther away. This truly remarkable coincidence is what gives us total solar eclipses. If the Moon were slightly smaller or orbited a little farther away from Earth, it would never completely cover the solar disk.

A solar eclipse occurs when a portion of the Earth is engulfed in a shadow cast by the Moon which fully or partially blocks " occults " sunlight. This occurs when the Sun , Moon and Earth are aligned. Such alignment coincides with a new moon syzygy indicating the Moon is closest to the ecliptic plane. In partial and annular eclipses , only part of the Sun is obscured. If the Moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to the Earth, and in the same orbital plane , there would be total solar eclipses every new moon. However, since the Moon's orbit is tilted at more than 5 degrees to the Earth's orbit around the Sun , its shadow usually misses Earth. A solar eclipse can only occur when the moon is close enough to the ecliptic plane during a new moon.

The umbra is the dark center portion of a shadow. The Moon's umbra causes total solar eclipses, and the Earth's umbra is involved in total and partial lunar eclipses. The umbra is the dark, central part of the shadow. If we are within the Moon's umbra, we see a total solar eclipse. Earth's umbra is involved in total and partial lunar eclipses. Like any other opaque objects illuminated by a light source, the Moon and the Earth cast shadows into space as they block the sunlight that hits them. Each shadow has 3 different areas: the umbra, the penumbra, and the antumbra.


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