April 29, 2014
What is a Solar Eclipse?
Hi, I’m Emerald Robinson. In this “What Is” video, we’re going to take a closer look at solar eclipses.
A solar eclipse occurs when the new moon passes between the Earth and the sun. For a few brief moments, the moon’s shadow blocks sunlight from reaching the Earth. A total lunar eclipse completely blocks out our view of the sun, while a partial solar eclipse only covers part of the sun.
Solar eclipses are rare events and only last a few minutes, as the moon’s shadow is small in comparison to the sun. Astronomers can predict when eclipses will occur based on the Earth and moon’s positions relative to the sun. Solar eclipses only occur during new moons, when the moon’s surface is in shadow.
During an eclipse, the temperature may drop due to the loss of sunlight. Stars may appear in the sky, and birds may start singing, tricked into thinking it’s either dawn or evening. Solar eclipses were met with fear in ancient times, and are still viewed as unlucky in some parts of the world.
Astronomers view solar eclipses with excitement. During a total solar eclipse, the sun’s corona is visible surrounding the moon’s shadow. The corona is the outer atmosphere of the sun. Much cooler than the sun, the corona is not normally visible to the eye. During an eclipse, it’s also possible to see solar prominences–streams of solar material ejected from the sun’s surface.
Looking directly at the sun results in permanent eye damage and even blindness. A total solar eclipse only covers the entire sun for a few moments, and even during this time, directly viewing the eclipse with the naked eye risks eye damage. Astronomers advise not taking the risk: view the entire eclipse through special eye protection and filters. And then you can truly enjoy one of the skies most spectacular displays.