What is a solar eclipse?

A SOLAR eclipse is one of the natural phenomenons that captivate people around the world – if you're lucky enough to get to see it.

But what exactly is the sensational display of light and darkness in the sky? Here's what you need to know.

What is a solar eclipse?

A solar eclipse is a stunning celestial event that sees the Sun blocked by the Moon – casting a shadow on the Earth.

This partial or total blockage happens when the Sun, Moon and Earth line up.

When the Moon comes between the Earth and the Sunduring a new moon phase, it blocks the light and forms a shadow across the globe.

As the Sun’s rays are blocked, it gives people a chance to witness its fiery corona.

A total solar eclipse will occur on December 4, 2021, and will reach totality at 2:44am EST (7:44am GMT).

More penguins than people will witness it as it will only be visible over Antarctica.

But a partial solar eclipse will be visible from a few places in the Southern Hemisphere and the event is also available to watch live online.

A solar eclipse will be visible next year on October 25, 2022, from across Europe, northeast Africa, the Middle East, and West Asia.

It will be a partial eclipse – meaning only a small portion of the Sun will be rendered invisible as the Moon passes in front of it.

The Moon will partly obscure the image of the Sun for viewers on Earth, creating a spectacular effect for sky gazers.

This year's June 10 event was a "ring of fire" eclipse, named after the red halo that appears around the Sun during the alignment.

As the Moon covers the centre of the Sun, the edges will emit a glowing circle creating an illuminated "ring of fire".

What are the different types of solar eclipses?

There are four types of solar eclipse.

Total solar eclipse

This occurs when the orbital planes align and the Moon appears to completely block out the light from the Sun.

The Sun is exactly 400 times bigger than the Moon but it's also 400 times further away from the Earth.

These are the perfect ratios for the moon to completely eclipse the sun, provided the alignment on the Earth's surface is exactly right.

When the total solar eclipse occurs – when the Sun is completely covered – the “corona” is revealed, which is the outer atmosphere of the Sun.

Partial solar eclipse

This happens when a part of the Sun is always in view, creating a “penumbra” or partial shadow.

A partial eclipse means the centre of the Moon's shadow misses the Earth, but it still creates a spectacular effect for sky gazers.

The amount of Sun which is obscured by the Moon depends on where the person viewing the event happens to be.

This can range from a relatively small bite-sized chunk appearing to the Sun taking on a slim crescent-shape.

Annular solar eclipse

Annular solar eclipses are rare and considered as a sort of variant on a partial solar eclipse.

An annular solar eclipse appears similar to a total eclipse in that the Moon appears to pass centrally across the Sun, creating a “counterfeit twilight”.

The event occurs when the three objects are not quite fully aligned with the Moon being vastly smaller than the Sun, and the Sun is not completely covered.

As Space.com explains: “During such an eclipse, the antumbra, a theoretical continuation of the umbra, reaches the ground, and anyone situated within it can look up past either side of the umbra and see an annulus, or "ring of fire" around the Moon.

“A good analogy is putting a penny atop a nickel, the penny being the Moon, the nickel being the Sun.”

Hybrid solar eclipses

These are also known as annular-total ("A-T") eclipses. 

They occur when the moon's distance is near its limit for the umbra to reach Earth.

An A-T eclipse usually starts as an annular eclipse due to the tip of the umbra falling just short of making contact with Earth; then it becomes total, because the curvature of the planet reaches up and intercepts the shadow tip near the middle of the path, then finally it returns to annular toward the end of the path.

Of all solar eclipses, about 28 per cent are total; 35 per cent are partial; 32 per cent annular and just five per cent are hybrids.

How often are solar eclipses?

Eclipses don’t happen at every new moon.

The number of times a solar eclipse occurs varies but usually between two and five take place each year.

On average, a total eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about every 18 months.

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