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Eclipses 101



During a solar eclipse, the moon casts two shadows on Earth–the umbra and the penumbra. The umbra is the dark center of the moon’s shadow that gets smaller as it reaches Earth, while the penumbra gets larger as it reaches Earth. People standing in the penumbra will see a partial eclipse, while those in the umbra will see a total eclipse.




A partial eclipse occurs when the sun, moon and Earth are not perfectly aligned. A dark shadow appears on only a small part of the sun’s surface. From our perspective, this looks like the Moon has taken a bite out of the Sun. All of the contiguous U.S. states will experience a partial eclipse this August.


An annular eclipse happens when the moon is farthest from Earth. The moon doesn't block the entire view of the sun, but instead looks like a dark disk on top of a larger sun-colored disk. The last annular eclipse to be seen in Nashville was on Oct. 19, 1865.


For a total eclipse to take place, the sun, moon and Earth must be perfectly aligned. Only visible from a small area on Earth, the people who experience totality are in the center of the moon’s shadow. Nashville is the largest city wholly within the path of totality for August's eclipse.


During a lunar eclipse, the Earth moves between the sun and the moon blocking the sunlight that normally is reflected by the moon. A lunar eclipse can occur only when the moon is full, and usually lasts for a few hours. At least two partial lunar eclipses happen every year, but total lunar eclipses are rare. It is safe to look at a lunar eclipse. 



In a partial eclipse, only part of the moon enters the Earth’s shadow, which appears very dark on the side of the moon facing Earth. Depending on the alignment, what people see from Earth varies. Partial lunar eclipses don't happen every full moon night because of the angle of the Moon's orbit. 


For a total lunar eclipse, the moon and the sun must be on exact opposite sides of Earth. Earth blocks any direct sunlight from reaching the Moon. Although the moon is in Earth’s shadow, some sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere, filtering out most of the blue light, and makes the moon appear red to people on Earth.



Total Solar Eclipses:

  • July 7, 1442 (1 minute, 31 seconds)
  • July 29, 1478 (2 minutes, 31 seconds)
  • August 21, 2017 (1 minute, 58 seconds)
  • August 16, 2566 (2 minutes, 15 seconds)

Annular Solar Eclipses:

  • December 25, 1628
  • October 19, 1865
  • March 26, 2267
  • March 27, 2294

Partial Solar Eclipses:

  • May 30, 1984
  • May 10, 1994
  • April 8, 2024
  • August 12, 2045


Solar Physics:

Francis Baily, a successful London stockbroker, observed how during an annular eclipse the sunlight poured through the valleys between mountains on the edge of the Moon’s surface, causing the ring of light around the Moon to break up and look like a string of bright beads.

Now known as “Baily’s Beads,” his observations inspired scientists and nonscientists alike to begin chasing solar eclipses..

General Theory of Relativity:

A solar eclipse confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The theory predicted that massive bodies like the Sun could bend the path of light from the stars, making them appear in slightly different positions. A 1919 eclipse made it possible for scientists to test, and confirm, his theory of bending starlight.. 


French solar physicist Jules Janssen traveled to India to observe a solar eclipse, where he and British astronomer Joseph Norman Lockyer independently discovered a new chemical element they named after the Greek word for sun, “helios.”

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