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What are solar and lunar eclipses? The terms solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse refer to events involving three celestial bodies: the Sun (“solar“), the Moon (“lunar“), and the Earth. A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon lines up precisely in front of the Earth so that the Moon blocks the Sun’s rays and the Moon’s shadow falls upon the Earth. In contrast, a lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon lines up precisely behind the Earth so that the Earth blocks the Sun’s rays and the Earths shadow falls upon the Moon. Both events are relatively rare occurrences and only happen when the Sun, the Moon and the Earth are exactly or very closely aligned.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon lines up precisely in front of the Earth so that the Moon blocks the Sun’s rays and the Moon’s shadow falls upon the Earth. This relatively rare occurrence only happens during a new moon, when the Earth, Moon and Sun are exactly or very closely aligned, with the Moon in the middle. The shadow cast can partially or totally cover the Moon, which can result in a total eclipse, partial eclipse or annular eclipse. The type and length of a solar eclipse depends upon the Moon’s location. A total solar eclipse lasts for only a few minutes and can only be viewed by those along a narrow path of the Earth’s surface. As it is dangerous to look directly at the Sun, observers should use special eye protection or indirect viewing techniques.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon lines up precisely behind the Earth so that the Earth blocks the Sun’s rays and the Earths shadow falls upon the Moon. This relatively rare occurrence only happens when the Moon, Earth and Sun are exactly or very closely aligned, with the Earth in the middle. The shadow cast can partially or totally cover the Moon, creating partial eclipses and total eclipses for our viewing pleasure. The type and length of a lunar eclipse depends upon the Moon’s location relative to its orbital nodes. A lunar eclipse lasts for a few hours and can be viewed from anyone on the night side of the Earth. Because lunar eclipses are no brighter than the full moon itself, they are safe to observe without any eye protection or special precautions.
Lunar eclipses occur more often than solar eclipses. Because the Moon is closer to the Earth than it is to the Sun, the Earth has a much greater chance of blocking the sunlight to the Moon, compared to the Moon blocking the Earth’s light from the Sun. Also note that while a lunar eclipse can last for a few hours, a total solar eclipse lasts for only a few minutes at any given place due to the small size of the Moon’s shadow.
The differences between a solar eclipse and lunar eclipse are fairly straightforward. Some of the more important differences include visibility, time, duration, frequency and viewing.
While several cultures have myths related to the lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse has always had a more profound effect on society. In some ancient and modern cultures, solar eclipses have been attributed to supernatural causes or regarded as bad omens. For example, in ancient China, a solar eclipse was thought to be the dragon coming to eat the Sun.
As the Moon orbits Earth, it changes phase in an orderly way. Follow these links to understand the various phases of the moon.
Full Moon | Full Moon Names | Blue Moon | Wolf Moon | Snow Moon | Worm Moon | Pink Moon | Flower Moon | Strawberry Moon | Buck Moon | Sturgeon Moon | Harvest Moon | Hunters Moon | Beaver Moon | Cold Moon |
Full Moon Calendar | Lunar Calendar | Lunar Eclipse Calendar | Solar Eclipse Calendar | Full Moon Calendar 2011 | Full Moon Calendar 2012 | Full Moon Calendar 2013 | Full Moon Calendar 2014 | Full Moon Calendar 2015 |
Eclipses & Moon Facts