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An eclipse is an astronomical event that occurs when one celestial object moves into the shadow of another. Eclipses page is a guide to eclipses: total, partial, annular and lunar.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse PictureJust as the Moon cases a shadow  through space, so does the Earth. A Lunar Eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the shadow of our planet and can only happen during a Full Moon when it is directly opposite the sun in our skies.

There are three types of lunar eclipse:

1. A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse is when the Moon passes through the Earth penumbral shadow. These events usually pass un-noticed, as the effect of the shadow is subtle and difficult to observe.

2. A Partial Eclipse is seen when the Earth's umbra shadow falls on part of the lunar surface and is easily visible.

3. In a Total Eclipse the entire of the Moon is engulfed in the umbra shadow and takes on vibrant colours as sunlight is filtered through Earth's atmosphere.

The colour of the Moon during a lunar eclipse is often described as blood red, but its exact appearance often depends on how much dust and clouds are present in Earth's atmosphere. Dust from major volcanic eruptions can tint the eclipse much darker. Unlike total solar eclipses which are visible only from a narrow strip, lunar eclipses can be seen across the entire night side of Earth.

Eclipse Terminology

Phrases and words used to describe the events during a Total Eclipse of the Sun.

First Contact: When the Moon starts its slide across the Sun's disc.

Second Contact: The Moon has covered the entire Sun.

Third Contact: The Moon is moving off the Sun and part of the Sun's surface has become visible once more.

Fourth Contact: The entire disc of the Sun is visible again as the Moon moves off.

Totality: The period when the entire disc of the Sun is obscured.

Partial Eclipse: Seen from a location where the entire Sun is not covered by the Moon.

Photosphere: The bright 'surface' of the Sun.

Corona: The outer atmosphere of the Sun.

Bally's Beads: The last beacons of sunlight seen through the hills and valleys on the edge of the Moon.

Diamond Ring: The effect created by the last (or first) bead of light from the Sun.

Solar Eclipse

Solar Eclipse PictureA solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun casting a shadow through space that touches the planet's surface. Unfortunately, although the Moon orbits the Earth every 29.5 days, there is not a solar eclipse every month because the Moon's orbit is tilted by 5 degrees in relation to Earth's own orbit around the Sun. This misalignment sends the Moon's shadow off into space, missing the Earth, on most occasions. But at least twice a year the orbits of the two bodies come into line, casting the shadow upon our planet in one of nature's most remarkable sights.

The Moon's shadow is made of two parts, the penumbra and the umbra. The penumbra is the faint outer part of the shadow. A partial eclipse is visible where it falls on Earth. The umbra is the dark inner part of the shadow and is typically about 160km across. Those lucky enough to be along the track of this dark core will witness a total eclipse of the Sun. At totality an eerie darkness will fall across the land and the pearly-white halo of the Sun's wispy outer atmosphere, the corona, will be visible. In the darkened sky, planets and stars can be seen. The experience last only a few minutes, but it is one never to be forgotten.

Annular Eclipse

Annular Eclipse PictureAn annular eclipse occurs when the Sun and Moon are exactly in line, but the apparent size of the Moon is smaller than that of the Sun. Hence the Sun appears as a very bright ring. The Moon's orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle. It cuts an oval track through space that takes the Moon between 405,600km from Earth at its maximum extent and 355,700km away at its closes approach. As the distance from the Earth to the Moon varies so does the apparent size of the Moon in our skies. When it is closer it appears larger in the sky than the Sun and can completely obscure the solar disc, but when it is further away its smaller apparent size is not enough to cover the Sun. The umbral of the shadow cannot reach the Earth instead a third portion of the shadow is born: the antumbral or negative shadow. An annular eclipse is visible where the antumbral sweeps across the Earth's surface, this is known as the path of annularity. From within this region the Moon's dark disc is centred on the sun, but unable to obscure all its light, leaving a brilliant ring of fire in the sky, Unfortunately, the Sun's corona is lost in the glare of the annular eclipse.


Eclipse!: The What, Where, When, Why, and How Guide to Watching Solar and Lunar Eclipses by Philip S. Harrington


Eclipse Guide, pages 1 to 7, Astronomy Now Magazine, 2006.

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Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014