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Looking to the Stars: The Science Behind Different Solar Eclipses
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Looking to the Stars: The Science Behind Different Solar Eclipses
by Clarence Oxford
Los Angeles CA (SPX) May 13, 2024

For the keen-eyed astronomers among us, it's rapidly approaching eclipse season. With a total lunar eclipse set to occur in North America on April 8, 2024, there's never been a better time to learn about the different types of solar eclipses.

Eclipses are a fascinating astronomical event - historically, many cultures assumed that they disrupted the natural order - in some instances, they were even considered bad omens. As our knowledge of the universe has grown, we now understand that eclipses are just a part of life - a natural interaction between the Sun, the Moon, and our little blue planet.

For educators, such as those who have completed an online EdD in Education Leadership, an eclipse is a unique opportunity to teach students about the solar system, and may even inspire some to form the next generation of spacefarers.

Just remember, when observing solar eclipses, play it safe - always use eye protection, and never look directly at the Sun! Otherwise, the solar eclipse you see may be your last.

How Do Solar Eclipses Occur?
Solar eclipses seem like an inconceivable event - after all, the Earth is small, the Moon is even smaller, and the Sun is a long, long way away, right? While all of this may be indeed true, a solar eclipse is an event that occurs somewhat frequently. Renowned space agency NASA periodically publishes a forecast of when the next solar eclipses are expected to occur.

While solar eclipses occur roughly twice each year, their path often passes over sparsely populated areas. On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse is forecast to pass over a significant proportion of the population as it passes over Mexico, the United States, and Canada, and it is expected to be the only eclipse that passes over all three nations in the twenty-first century.

The upcoming solar eclipse will be the last to be experienced outside of Alaska for the next two decades, demonstrating just how hard it can be to have an eclipse align with populated cities and towns.

A solar eclipse occurs when one celestial body moves into the shadow of another body. Now, a celestial body can be many things - it could be a comet, a moon, or even a planet!

A solar eclipse happens on Earth when the Moon comes between the light that comes from the Sun, and our little blue planet. When that occurs, the Moon obstructs the light from the Sun - meaning that for a little while, the sky may appear dark, like night-time. There are several different types of eclipse - depending on the proportion of the Sun obstructed by the Moon, it can vary between total, solar, and annular.

Total Solar Eclipse - A Total Eclipse of The Sun
A total solar eclipse is typically visible on a small part of the Earth during a solar eclipse. In this area, the Moon blocks the light of the Sun from reaching the Earth in near totality, resulting in the darkening of the sky during what would normally be daytime.

For residents in more than a dozen U.S. cities, there will be an opportunity to see a total eclipse. Due to the size of the Sun, and the necessary angles required for an eclipse, it will only last three to four minutes - however, it promises to be an amazing spectacle for those who choose to observe it.

If you're lucky and are in the path of a total eclipse, you may experience a few brief minutes where you can observe coronal ejections - material blasted off the surface of the Sun. When the Sun isn't in an eclipse, it can often be very difficult to see these coronal mass ejections, due to their reduced visibility when compared to the sun itself.

Just remember, never look directly at the Sun, and be sure to wear appropriate eye protection.

Annular Solar Eclipse - A Ring of Fire
Did you know that the orbit of the sun is elliptical? As a result, when you look at the Moon, sometimes it can be slightly closer or farther away than it appears. When the Moon orbits further away from Earth, a special type of eclipse known as an annular solar eclipse occurs.

In this instance, while the Moon may cover most of the Sun's light, its small size means that in an annular solar eclipse, you can still see a small ring of the Sun around the shadow of the Moon. This observational phenomenon is known as the ring of fire - and is often used in media material where a solar eclipse is prominent in fictional work, such as in the popular 2000s superhero series, Heroes.

Partial Solar Eclipse - The Crescent
A partial solar eclipse occurs when the Moon only covers a part of the Sun's light - forming a crescent-like sun in the sky. This occurs when the Moon is only partially aligned with the Sun's orbit - and as a result, is the most common type of solar eclipse observed.

While total eclipses only occur over a small proportion of the Earth during an eclipse, the angle between the Earth, Moon, and Sun can be significantly different, depending on your observational angle. During the eclipse on April 8, the forty-eight contiguous states of America will be able to experience at least a partial solar eclipse.

Solar eclipses provide an opportunity to experience a natural event, from the comfort of our homes. The upcoming eclipse on April 8 will be the last opportunity for many Americans to view an eclipse closely - in fact, the next time a total solar eclipse will occur in the contiguous United States will be in the year 2045.

Solar eclipses may traditionally have been events shrouded in mystery, but discoveries in recent centuries have revealed their hidden power - an ability to enthrall, intrigue, and excite the masses. As we explore the cosmos, and discover the hidden beauty of our Solar System, a solar eclipse can sometimes remind us that a little bit of beauty is sometimes closer than we might think.

So, get your suitable eye protection and gear up - eclipse season is coming, and it's sure to be an exciting time, no matter whether you're an exuberant student or a professional astronomer.

Related Links
EdD in Education
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