Solar Eclipses

What happens during a solar eclipse?

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2011-06-18 02:04:45

During a solar eclipse, the moon comes between the sun and the

earth, blocking view of the sun from some parts of the earth by

casting its shadow. The longest this lasts in any one place on the

earth's surface is about 6 minutes, but the alignment of sun, moon

and earth that throws the moon's shadow on the earth can last for

several hours while the shadow moves across the earth's


Adjacent to those places where the sun's disk is totally

blocked, where the eclipse is said to be total, there is a

wider zone where the sun is never totally blocked, and there the

eclipse is said to be partial. Even in places where the

eclipse is eventually total, there are times before and after

totality when the eclipse is partial.

While it is safe to look directly at a total solar eclipse,

which is a very spectacular event, care must be taken to avoid

looking directly at a partial solar eclipse. The portion of the sun

that is not blocked by the moon during a partial eclipse is so

bright that, even though it may not be painful, it can burn the

retina (light-sensing cells in the back of your eyeball) literally

before you can blink. Depending on severity, such burns can take

months to heal, or can be permanent, resulting in vision defects or


Solar eclipses are rare in any one place, but occur somewhere in

the world, generally twice every year. (See the catalog of all

solar eclipses from 2000 BCE to 3000 AD on the NASA Eclipse Web

Page, linked below.)

Indirect viewing of a partial solar eclipse can be accomplished

by using a telescope or binoculars to project the sun's image on a

screen, or by using a pinhole camera projector. NEVER view

the sun directly through a telescope or binoculars unless you have

a proper solar filter attached . Exposed film is inadequate and

should never be used. Most welders goggles are also


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