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PlaygroundEquipment Blog
Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Solar Eclipses, and How to Watch Them

As some readers might know, there is a solar eclipse that is set to take place over North America on August 21, 2017. If you are reading this after that date, don’t worry—There will be more! In fact, eclipses generally happen at least twice a year, once in the spring and once in late summer. But this particular eclipse is special for a few reasons. It is the first total eclipse to occur over the mainland United States since June 8, 1918.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon moves in front of the sun, blocking all or part of it from view for observers on earth. A total eclipse, in which the moon completely blocks out the sun, is a rare occurrence that few people ever get to see. Most eclipses are either partial or annular.

Partial Solar Eclipses are the most commonly observed. These occur when the moon passes over part of the sun, blocking out some of its light. This makes the sun appear to be a crescent shape, much like the moon looks when the earth is blocking most of the sun’s light from it.

Annular Solar Eclipses are similar to total eclipses, in that the moon moves directly in front of the sun. However, the moon is not always the same distance away from the earth. This is why it appears to be larger on some nights than others. If the moon is directly in front of the sun, but too far away from the earth to block out its light completely, an annular eclipse is formed. When this happens, the moon blocks out the center of the sun, leaving only a bright ring of light visible around its edges.

Total Solar Eclipses are the hardest to see, because they require the moon to be directly in front of the sun, and also close enough to completely block it out. When this happens, certain areas of the earth will experience complete darkness for several minutes. To observers in these areas, it will appear as if the sun has completely disappeared (much to the terror of unknowing ancient civilizations).