On Wednesday some parts of India witnessed a partial solar eclipse. It was the first such phenomenon of year 2016.
What is a Solar Eclipse?
Human beings experience a solar eclipse on Earth when the Moon, while moving in its orbit, comes in its orbit between Earth and the Sun. it is a natural event that is also known as an occultation. As the lunar orbit is oval and sloped, with respect to Earth’s orbit, one can only see up to 5 eclipses each year.
When an eclipse happens, the Moon’s shadow passes across the surface of Earth. The Moon’s shadow has two parts: the dark umbra (darkest shadow of the Moon), and the lighter penumbra (the lighter path of the Moon’s shadow).
Types of Solar Eclipse
There are three types of it:
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Total Solar Eclipse:
In a total solar eclipse, the Moon blocks the entire solar disk (the surface of the Sun). In this event, the narrowest part of the path (where the Moon, while shedding its Umbra, completely blocks the surface of the Sun) is known as the “zone of totality.”
In this zone of totality one sees a darkened Sun (frequently termed as a “hole in the Sky”) with the shadowy Shine of the solar corona reaching out to space. As sunrays glow out through valleys on the lunar surface one can witness a phenomenon known as “Bailey’s Beads” that happen frequently.
During the event of total solar eclipse (TSE) one can also witness prominences, loops and flares during totality. It is imperative here to point out that a TSE is the only time when it is safe to look directly at the Sun. in all other solar eclipses (even in a partial one) one needs special solar filters to protect one’s eyes from burning.
Annular Solar Eclipse:
This kind of eclipse occurs when the Moon remains farther away in its orbit than usual and becomes unable to completely cover the surface of the Sun. during the event, a bright ring of sunlight glows around the Moon. As the word annular has its origin in the Latin word annulus meaning “ring”, this kind of eclipse has been termed an annular eclipse.
The annular solar eclipse can last from 5 or 6 minutes to up to 12 minutes. Since enough bright sunlight releases during this period of annularity, one cannot look at the Sun directly and needs eye protection to watch the event.
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Partial Solar Eclipse:
An event of a partial solar eclipse happens when Earth passes through the lighter part of the Moon’s shadow (lunar penumbra) as the Moon comes between Earth and the Sun. in this event the Moon does not completely cover the surface of the Sun, as seen from Earth. During a partial solar eclipse one might see anything between from a small scrap of the Sun being blotted out to a nearly total eclipse as it depends entirely on one’s location.
Safety Notes for Watching a Solar Eclipse:
In order to avoid serious eye damage that can even lead to the blindness because of the burning of eyes, one must never look at the Sun directly. To watch the eclipse safely one must use approved filters such as projecting sunlight through a telescope and into a white piece of paper or cardboard. One must never look at the Sun through a telescope that does not have proper filter.
- The reason for the occurrence of the Solar Eclipse is that the distance between the Earth and the Sun is about 400 times the Moon’s distance from the Sun and the diameter of the Sun is approximately 400 times larger than the Moon’s.
- A total solar eclipse can occur once every 1 to 2 years. This makes it a very rare event.
- The width of the “zone of totality” is usually about 160 km and can sweep across an area of about 10,000 miles of Earth’s surface.
- If any planets remain in the sky at the time of a total solar eclipse, they can be watched as points of light.
- Almost same eclipses occur after 18 years and 11 days. This period of 223 synodic months has been termed as saros.
- Conditions in the zone of totality, during a total solar eclipse, can change quickly. Air temperature drops and immediately the area becomes dark.
Next solar eclipse will occur on 1 September 2016.