Glaring At the Eclipse

During a lunar eclipse you get to watch Apollo, the god of light, interact with his sister Luna, the goddess of the moon.  Apollo drives the sun with his golden chariot and when he is finished for the day, Luna takes her turn lighting up the night sky in her silver chariot.  Sometimes Luna does not want to stay away from her brother, and at those times the moon can be seen during the day.  A lunar eclipse proves the power that Apollo has to still be able to shine his light even at night.  When the moon is immersed in the Earth’s shadow, Apollo can still be seen driving his chariot in the sky.

A lunar eclipse happens when the Sun, Earth and Moon form a straight line with each other and this allows the Earth’s umbral shadow to cover the moon.  The Moon is basically a dark object, but it can be seen in the sky most of the time because its surface reflects the Sun’s rays back to Earth.  During a total lunar eclipse, the full moon will change color, going through shades of red and orange. The totality of a lunar eclipse can last well over an hour, but only the people who are located on the night side of our Earth will be able to see it.  It is quite a spectacular event, but you are more likely to see a total lunar eclipse than you are to see a total solar eclipse.

In ten days from now, on August 21st, the great American eclipse will descend upon the United States, casting its shadow from coast to coast for the first time since 1918.  It’s perhaps one of the biggest astronomical events of the decade.  A solar eclipse happens when the New Moon moves between Earth and the Sun.  Around every 18 months or so, the Moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun on its orbit around our planet, but these solar eclipses will only last a few minutes.  Since the Moon doesn’t orbit in the same plane as the Earth and Sun, as it is off by 5 degrees, this is a relatively rare occurrence and it will only be viewable by less than half a percent of Earth’s surface.  However when the three bodies line up just right, the Moon covers up the disc of the Sun, and those in the direct path of the Moon’s shadow (called the path of totality) will see the Sun go dark.

Our Sun is 400 times larger than our moon, but it is also about 400 times farther away and thus from Earth they both appear to be about the same size, allowing our moon to cover up our Sun on these rare occasions.  There are 3 kinds of solar eclipses being total, partial, and annular.  There is also a rare hybrid that is a combination of an annular and a total eclipse.  A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon completely covers the Sun, as seen from Earth.  A partial solar eclipse happens when the Moon only partially covers the disk of the Sun.  An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon appears smaller than the Sun (it is too far away to block the Sun) as it passes centrally across the solar disk and a bright ring, or annulus, of sunlight remains visible during the eclipse.  A hybrid solar eclipse is a rare form of solar eclipse, which changes from an annular to a total solar eclipse, and vice versa, along its path.

In the far future our earth will only get annular and partial solar eclipses as our moon is moving further away from us.  Our moon is moving away from Earth by more than 3 centimeters every year.  In the upcoming millions of people will be glaring at the Sun to see the moon slowly pass in front of it, blocking out the light.  But those who aren’t careful will risk doing some nasty damage to their eyes.

9 thoughts on “Glaring At the Eclipse

    1. In 1969 when we landed on the moon the astronauts placed mirrors on the surface and we bounce lasers off of these mirrors to tell how much the distance varies. It gets closer and goes further away, but overall it is moving away from the Earth.

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