It isn’t often that one begins his or her blogging career with a “ramble.” One would expect a nicely titled article full of formality and professionalism. However, that is not what you will find in this article. Instead, you’ll find a casual discussion of a scientific concept: Eclipses. (Also, I’m fully aware that I’m very late to this topic.)

It’s always interesting to watch people prepare themselves an eclipse. From buying specialized solar eclipse glasses to making pinhole cameras out of paper and aluminum foil, most are willing to spend their hard earned money to witness nature’s once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Something about the moon lining up perfectly with the sun, forming a black circle in the sky surrounded by a halo of white light, gets the public excited.

Many eclipse fanatics booked hotels along the route of the eclipse’s path of totality months in advance, like front row seats to a pop concert. Hotels for August 21st, 2017 in Cookeville, Tennessee for example, were almost fully booked in the weeks leading up to the eclipse. Others refused to treat the eclipse as noteworthy and instead chose to treat it with indifference, not even bothering to look outside at the darkened sky. For them, August 21st, 2017 was just another day.

But few people are aware of the science behind the eclipse, the precise cause for that giant eye in the sky. Many don’t care enough to find out. It is for that reason I present to you, for your reading pleasure:

What Happens During a Total Solar Eclipse

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States of a total solar eclipse

  • First, the moon must go between the Earth and sun at a time in its orbit when it is nearer to the Earth than usual.

  • The moon will move to a point where from Earth it will appear to be moving in front of the sun.

  • It will do this gradually until it completely covers the sun, like in the center of picture shown above. This is what it known as a total eclipse.

  • At this time, the moon will cast a shadow on Earth. The moon’s shadow cast upon will have two parts: the umbra and the penumbra.

  • The penumbra is the broader, larger part of this shadow, and areas on Earth where the penumbra falls will view what is called a partial eclipse.

  • On the image pictured above, a partial eclipse would be what is either to the left or right of the total eclipse at the center.

  • Below is a diagram and a picture of the shadow of the moon on Earth during an eclipse:

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Diagram of a solar eclipse

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Moon’s shadow on Earth during an eclipse

  • The second, smaller and more centered part of the moon’s shadow is known a the umbra. Areas on earth that fall under the umbra of the eclipse are apart of what is called the “Path of totality”, meaning that the people in those areas will view the total eclipse, where the sun is 100% covered by the moon.

  • The total part of the eclipse typically lasts for around 5 to 10 minutes, but the entire eclipse, whether partial or total, last around 2 hours from when it begins to when it ends. The eclipse can even be viewed through the shadow of trees on the ground:

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Tree shadow during eclipse

  • During a total eclipse, the beautiful white aura peeking out from around the moon is the sun’s corona and solar prominence.

  • These are incredibly bright and protruding during an eclipse, which is why it is considered harmful and health-threatening to look at them directly during an eclipse without proper eye protection.

The End Result

A beautiful, and breathtaking total eclipse, which occurs about every 18 months somewhere on Earth.

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Total solar eclipse

If you missed the famous 2017 eclipse, don’t worry. Scientists say that on April 8th, 2024 another eclipse come across mainland US once again, although the path of totality won’t be the same. Read more about it here.

References

Domonoske, C. (2016, March 11). WATCH: Shadow Of The Moon Crosses Earth During Solar Eclipse. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://www.wfuv.org/content/watch-shadow-moon-crosses-earth-during-solar-eclipse

How to Make a Pinhole Camera Project | NASA/JPL Edu. (2016, July 14). Retrieved September 04, 2017, from https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/project/how-to-make-a-pinhole-camera/

Militana, L. (2017, August 21). Hotels booked solid for eclipse. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://herald-citizen.com/stories/hotels-booked-solid-for-eclipse,22807

National Parks Service. (2017, August 12). 2017 Solar Eclipse. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2017-solar-eclipse.htm

Smith, I. C. (2015, August 01). The Science: Mechanics of Solar Eclipses. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://moonblink.info/Eclipse/why/solar

Sudderth, L. (2017, August 25). Second chance to see a total solar eclipse in 2024. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://www.mcalesternews.com/news/second-chance-to-see-a-total-solar-eclipse-in/article_ad9fa4ee-8916-11e7-a997-477f98dcb796.html

Theeyeabove. (2016, July 12). Tree Shadow during eclipse. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://imgur.com/gallery/Yg6XYG0

Weitering, H. (2017, August 16). Solar Eclipse Glasses: Where to Buy the Best, High-Quality Eyewear. Retrieved September 04, 2017, from https://www.space.com/36941-solar-eclipse-eye-protection-guide.html

When: Solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. (2017, August 26). Retrieved September 04, 2017, from http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/when-solar-eclipse-on-august-21-2017/article19567204.ece

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—Heinrich Rohrer

 

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