The sudden disappearance of the sun is perhaps one of our planet’s most impressive, naturally occurring phenomena.
Solar eclipses occur when the Moon becomes aligned between the Earth and the Sun, blocking out the light from the Sun and casting a shadow on Earth.
Far from being a rare, NASA has calculated that total solar eclipses occur about every 18 months. However, any given region will only experience a total eclipse once in every 375 years, so witnessing a total eclipse truly is a once in a lifetime experience.
The First Recorded Eclipse
Solar eclipses have been noted for over 4,000 years. Chinese astrologers are thought to be the first to document this mesmerizing, natural occurrence, with historians asserting that the first recorded eclipse took place on October 22, 2134 BCE.
With no scientific explanation for the strange event, the astrologers postulated that the phenomenon was caused by a dragon eating the Sun. Until our understanding of science advanced significantly, some form of demon eating the Sun was a popular explanation in a wide variety of cultures across the globe.
A Fortuitous Accident
Solar eclipses occur only in the new Moon phase, during which the Moon shifts to the side of the Earth’s surface that is facing the Sun. That’s when the Moon’s tilted orbiting angle ensures that the three bodies will align sporadically.
The very fact that we are able to witness a solar eclipse is merely an accident of fortune. Indeed, it is a glorious coincidence that the diameter of the Moon, as well as its distance from Earth, is sufficient to momentarily cover the surface of the Sun.
Types of Solar Eclipse
There are three different types of solar eclipse, defined by the amount of the Sun’s light blocked by the Moon.
An annular eclipse is a phenomenon which occurs when the Moon’s elliptical orbit contrives to carry it too far from the Earth, resulting in only a partially blocked Sun. The Moon appears too small to block out the Sun and is surrounded by a ring of light.
A partial eclipse, similar to an annular eclipse, occurs when the Sun and Moon are not precisely aligned. A crescent of light will border the Moon’s shadow or penumbra. Partial eclipses can commonly be seen from a much larger part of the Earth than annular or total eclipses.
A total eclipse is one of the most magnificent sights you’re every likely to see. It requires being within a specific, quite small area, just 10,000 miles long and 100 miles wide. As the Sun becomes obscured by the Moon, one is able to see the outer atmosphere of the Sun, its corona, which glows against the dark, night sky. The state of totality lasts for only a handful of minutes, before the Sun begins to reappear.
During each millennium, there are typically fewer than ten total solar eclipses that exceed 7 minutes. The next one will not occur until June 25, 2150. The longest total solar eclipse during the 8,000 year period from 3000 BCE to 5000 AD will occur on July 16, 2186, with a totality lasting 7 minutes 29 seconds.
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