We see it almost every night of our lives. For thousands of years, the greatest philosophers and astronomers alike have watched its face change and wondered why.
Step outside and observe the moon every day for a month and you will notice something fascinating. Over the course of the entire month, the moon will go through an entire cycle of phases—no more, no less.
The phases of the moon are something I’ve talked about before, but I wanted to spend some time on a few common misconceptions this time around and show you the truth behind the lunar phases.
Would it surprise you to hear the solar eclipses repeat?
Now, I know we can’t go back in time to see past eclipses, and once the date of an eclipse—say, March 7, 1970—has passed, that date will never come again. It’s simple reality, and we’re all aware of time’s passing.
But as you’ll soon realize through these astronomy posts, astronomy is full of repeating cycles. And one of those is the saros cycle, or simply the “saros.” It’s an eclipse prediction cycle, and after every one, the same eclipse occurs again.
There can be no doubt that solar and lunar eclipses are some of the most fascinating sights for the “naked” eye. (And I say “naked” under the assumption that you know never to look directly at the sun without approved protection!)
Unless it’s during totality. Then you can take those glasses off.
But what I mean is, solar and lunar eclipses don’t require telescopes or binoculars to be seen. You don’t need to use any special equipment. You just need your eyes, and in the case of a solar eclipse, some form of protection—like solar glasses.
You may have noticed that when a solar eclipse comes up—or even a lunar eclipse—it’s all the rage. Suddenly, the media is swamped with safety warnings and calendar countdowns to the big event.
The United States just about lost its mind over the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017. And I have a feeling the next total solar eclipse to pass over the US, in seven years, will be just as dramatic.
But you might also be wondering…how do we know when these incredible sights are going to happen?
This is adapted from a post I wrote for the wonderful Momma over at A Momma’s View. For the original version, click here.
The total solar eclipse is an incredible phenomenon, one that I hope to see myself someday.
It isn’t often that an astronomical event occurs of such magnitude that people of all walks of life from all around the globe are drawn to one measly 65-mile wide strip of land, to crowd in like sardines as they watch the world change around them.
What’s important to realize about a total solar eclipse, versus just an annular one, is that it’s a people event.
Scientists do take this opportunity to study the sun’s corona, an outer layer of gases that’s usually too faint to be seen. But in general, this is an event for crowds to enjoy.
And enjoy it they do. I have never known another event of astronomical significance to populate the web and turn heads like a total solar eclipse.
But what happens during a solar eclipse? What can you expect to see, and how can you protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays?
An annular solar eclipse is…an interesting sight, to say the least.
(I sincerely hope the photographer didn’t fry his camera taking this picture. Enough light from the sun is still reaching us to fry your retina, or damage your optics…)
The annular eclipse is not to be confused with an annual eclipse. When my dad first got excited about it back in 2012, preparing us for the spectacular sight of a solar eclipse in May, I wondered why the heck we hadn’t done this every year before.
The fact is, I’d never heard the word “annular,” so I thought Dad was just wrong.
But in reality, “annular” means something very different from “annual.”
A solar eclipse is the most amazing astronomical sight you’ll ever see.
Not only is it the only time you’ll ever be able to clearly see the “new moon” phase of the moon, it’s the only time you’ll ever see the sun’s corona. And it’s the only time that, under very specific circumstances, you can actually look directly at the sun for a few moments.
But before you get too excited about that, let me tell you what’s happening in the sky—and give you a few important safety warnings!
(This is just the first of a few posts that will talk about solar eclipses; they’re all worthy of a read. Even if you don’t read all of mine, make absolutely certain you’re caught up on safety warnings before you view a solar eclipse!)
It’s named for its red appearance. Sometimes it’s even mistaken for Mars, as in the case of the “Mars hoax” back in 2002. It was claimed then that Mars would look as large as the full moon on August 27.
In truth, Mars will never appear as large as the full moon to the naked eye (a fancy way of saying that you’re not looking through a telescope or binoculars). What really happened was that the moon passed through the Earth’s shadow.
Wait a second. The Earth has a shadow? And it’s red?
We see them all the time. When we look up at the moon in the sky, we’re bound to notice that it looks just a little bit different from the last time we saw it. It changes from a slivery crescent to a full circle, and then wanes back to the crescent phase again.
The moon has behaved the same way in the sky for billions of years, ever since a Mars-sized space rock collided with the newborn Earth and the debris collected into our own personal satellite.
For that long, the moon has watched over us and captivated scientists and amateur skywatchers alike.
But what are the secrets behind its monthly changes?