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Do you want to watch one of the coolest and rarest sights ever? Solar and lunar eclipses are known for their uniqueness and the awe they bring to people around the world. But do you know the difference (beyond the obvious) between a lunar eclipse vs solar eclipse? In this article, we’ll discuss the differences and similarities between solar and lunar eclipses. We also let you know how to safely view a solar eclipse.
What Is a Solar Eclipse?
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon orbits Earth and moves between the sun and Earth. During this time, the moon blocks the sun’s light from reaching Earth, and the moon’s shadow is cast onto Earth. Solar eclipses occur every 18 months and only last a few minutes long.
Types of Solar Eclipse
There are three types of solar eclipses:
- A total solar eclipse is only visible to those who are in the center of the moon’s shadow. During this time, the sky becomes very dark as it does at night time. For a total solar eclipse to occur, the Earth, moon and sun must be in a direct line.
- A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Earth, moon and sun are not lined up perfectly. The sun has a dark shadow on part of its surface.
- An annular solar eclipse is when the moon is the farthest from the Earth. During this time, the moon seems smaller, and it does not block the whole view of the sun. The moon appears as a dark circle on top of the sun, which looks like a sun-colored ring circling the moon.
There are two shadows cast onto Earth from the moon. The first is called the umbra, and it gets smaller as the moon reaches Earth. If you stand in the umbra, you will see a total eclipse. The second is called the penumbra, which gets larger as the moon reaches Earth. If you stand in the penumbra, you will see a partial eclipse.
When Is the Next Solar Eclipse?
The next solar eclipse in the Americas is July 2, 2019. Wondering when the last solar eclipse was? This year was the first total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States since 1979. Totality lasts only two minutes, but the entire solar eclipse lasts two hours and 38 minutes leading up to and after the total eclipse.
Upcoming total solar eclipse dates and their locations:
- Solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, in Lower 48 states (just happened)
- Solar eclipse of July 2, 2019, in much of South America
- Solar eclipse of April 8, 2024, in much of North America
To get the best view, be sure to check out the solar eclipse path, which is the direction the eclipse will go so you know which cities will see totality.
How to Safely View a Solar Eclipse
To watch a solar eclipse, you should NEVER look directly at the sun. It can damage your eyes permanently. Solar eclipse glasses block the sun’s ultraviolet, visible and infrared radiation to keep your eyes safe. Please use proper safety equipment to watch any solar eclipse, from beginning to end. Looking at the sun without protection can cause vision problems that are lasting. Using regular sunglasses is not considered adequate protection. Solar eclipse glasses should be ISO (International Organization for Standardization) 12312-2 compliant.
Beware of Fake Solar Eclipse Glasses!
As mentioned above, viewing the solar eclipse with inadequate equipment can permanently damage your eyesight. Unfortunately, unscrupulous sellers are taking advantage and there’s a lot of fake solar eclipse glasses flooding the market. Amazon recently conducted a bunch of withdrawals, but there are still products available that may ship in time for the next solar eclipse.
Where and How to Buy Safe Glasses
5 Ways to Safely Watch the Solar Eclipse [Video]
What Is a Lunar Eclipse?
As the Earth orbits the sun, the moon orbits around Earth. There are times when Earth is between the moon and the sun, and when this happens, Earth blocks the sunlight that is reflected by the moon. This sunlight is what makes the moon shine, so instead of sunlight hitting the moon, Earth’s shadow is cast on it. This is what is known as an eclipse of the moon, or a lunar eclipse, and it can only occur when there is a full moon. There are at least two partial lunar eclipses every year, but total lunar eclipses are rare. A lunar eclipse lasts a few hours typically, and it’s safe to watch without any eyewear.
There are two types of lunar eclipses:
- A total lunar eclipse happens when the sun, Earth and moon (in that order) are in direct alignment, and some of the sun’s light reaches the moon, which gives the moon a reddish color to people on Earth.
- A partial lunar eclipse takes place when part of the moon is in Earth’s shadow. The shadow of Earth is very dark on the side of the moon we see on Earth. The way a partial lunar eclipse looks varies depending on how the moon, Earth and sun are aligned.
When Is the Next Lunar Eclipse?
Here is a list of some upcoming lunar eclipses in North America:
- January 31, 2018: total lunar eclipse
- July 27/28, 2018: total lunar eclipse
- January 20/21, 2019: total lunar eclipse
- July 16/17, 2019: partial lunar eclipse
- May 26, 2021: total lunar eclipse
- November 18/19, 2021: partial lunar eclipse
- May 15/16, 2022: total lunar eclipse
- November 8, 2022: total lunar eclipse
How the Sun, Earth and Moon Align
You may have noticed that both solar and lunar eclipses occur due to the sun, Earth and moon all being aligned in a direct line. Depending on the order of these three and the shadows being cast, you could end up seeing one of the most beautiful sights in the world.
Have you watched a solar or lunar eclipse before? What was it like?