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27 Interesting Facts About Solar Eclipse That You Might Not Know

[Estimated read time: 5 minutes]

A solar eclipse happens when the Sun, Moon and the Earth align almost perfectly with each other i.e, the Moon moves in between the Sun and Earth. Any beginner to solar eclipse would think that how a much smaller object like the moon could hide a massive stellar body like the Sun?

Well the science behind this is very simple, even though, the Sun is about 400 times wider than the Moon, it is also 400 times farther than the moon is to the Earth, therefore, from our perspective, both the objects appear to be the same size which makes a solar eclipse possible. Here are some interesting solar facts that we strongly believe that you should know.

27. Syzygy is the term used to describe the straight alignment of the Sun, moon and the Earth or a planet and its moon. But it doesn’t necessarily result in eclipse as it can cause transit  and occultation.

26. The largest solar eclipse of the 21st century occurred in July 22, 2009 over the Pacific region. The  eclipse lasted for 6 minutes and 39 seconds.

25. There are actually three types of solar eclipse – Partial, Annular and Total. A partial solar eclipse occurs when the moon is not perfectly lined up between the Sun and the Earth. On the other hand, an annular eclipse happens only when the moon is relatively farther away from the Earth. Because the moon is farther away from Earth, it seems smaller and does not block the entire view of the sun. And at last, total eclipse happens when the moon completely covers the sun.

Annular Partial Total Eclipse

24. While, a solar eclipse occurs exclusively during a new moon phase, it doesn’t occur on every single new moon.

23. The solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was the first total eclipse in the mainland United States in 38 years. The last one was on Feb 26 1979.

22. After every 18 years 11 days and 8 hrs, one identical eclipse occurs. This period of roughly 223 synodic months is known as saros.

21. During an event of a total eclipse, overall conditions near the path of totality can drastically change. This includes sudden temperature drop and wildlife chaos.

20. In Greek, “Eclipse” literally means downfall or “the darkening of a heavenly body”.

19. A solar eclipse is divided into three parts. The umbra is the darkest part of the shadow where the Moon completely covers the Sun. The antumbra is the area surrounding the umbra, where the Moon is in front of the Sun, but it isn’t covering the Sun entirely, so the shadow is not as dark. The penumbra is the outer area of the shadow where the Moon only covers part of the Sun.

Diagram of umbra penumbra and antumbra

18. There is a great possibility that the Great American solar eclipse was the most watched eclipse in the recorded history.

17. No matter for how long, never try to gaze at the eclipse with your bare eyes. That may permanently damage your retina.

16. In ancient China it was believed that during a solar eclipses a celestial dragon consume the Sun. Similarly, during a lunar eclipse, the dragon attacks the moon. In modern Chinese language, the term used for eclipse is “shi” which meant “to consume.”

15. Sometime in early 6th century B.C, in the modern day Turkey, two powerful dynasties Lydians and Medas were engaged in a furious 6-day war when suddenly everything went dark, day turned to night. Both parties halted the fight and agreed a peace treaty.

14. Apart from anomalies, in every 410 years, a specific location on the Earth will experience at least one solar eclipse.

13. At the end of the last millennia, an Irish astronomer-archaeologist discovered the oldest recorded solar eclipse while investigating Loughcrew monument situated in Ireland. While examining the site, he stumbled upon some old spiral petroglyphs that might correspond to the eclipse of 3340 B.C. Upon further investigation, researchers found out that those symbols were consistent with alingment of the Sun, Moon during an eclipse

12. A total solar eclipse cannot occur near either of the Earth’s poles.

11. The Baily’s beads is a phenomena that occurs only during annular and total solar eclipses. Just before the totality, the rugged topography of moon’s limbs allows the sunlight to travel to the Earth in a slightly distorted way. Those small shiny beads of sunlight is what we call the Baily’s beads.

Baily's beadsBaily’s beads photographed 4 seconds before totality

10. An acclaimed eclipse chaser named David Baron has witnessed a total of six total solar eclipses, including the great American solar eclipse of 2017. Since 1998, he has traveled extensively to Europe, Australia and Indonesia to observe this spectacular event.

8. On an average, two to five solar eclipses occur every year. Since the advent of the Gregorian calendar, five solar eclipses in a single year occurred only in 1693, 1758, 1805, 1823, 1870, and the most recent was in 1935.

7. While observing the solar eclipse of 1868, scientists discovered an unknown element in the Sun’s spectrum. This element in now known as Helium. Upon the time of its discovery, researchers suspected the element to be sodium, but was later confirmed as Helium in 1895.

6. During an eclipse, moon’s shadow advances at a speed of 1770 km near the equator and about 8,000 km at the poles. While the approximated width of moon’s shadow is about 273 km.

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5. In 1973, a team of astronomers aboard a Concorde prototype that chased a total solar eclipse at twice the speed of sound. That year, scientists estimated that if present in the right position, one can observe the solar eclipse for the whole 7 minutes plus 4 seconds. But these researchers had something different in mind. This endeavor enabled them to witness the eclipse for 74 minutes.

4. While there are no known cases of negative physical effects (apart from retinal damage) of solar eclipse on humans, they are always believed to be capable of triggering profound psychological side effects. From ancient times, solar eclipses have been interpreted as an omen and a sign that something bad is about to happen.

3. Unlike lunar eclipses, predicting a solar eclipse is a fairly difficult task. The earliest known successful solar eclipse prediction was made by Thales of Miletus in 610 B.C. It is believed that Thales had the adequate amount of knowledge of previous eclipses, which helped him predict a future eclipse. However, it wasn’t until Ptolemy that eclipse forecasting became more reliable.

2. The Earth will witness its last total solar eclipse in about 600-700 million years from now. This is due to the fact that the Moon is drifting away from the Earth at a rate of 5 cm a year. At that rate, the moon will be far away from the Earth that it will fail to totally cast the Sun during an eclipse.

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1. According to the European Space Agency, the total solar eclipse of 1919 was one of the most important eclipse in the human history. And rightfully so, it was during this eclipse when Sir Arthur Eddington performed the first ever experimental test to prove Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Since then many tests have been performed during the total solar eclipses around the globe to confirm Einstein’s theory.