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A Few Facts About Solar Eclipses

Updated on September 15, 2017
Soul stirring
Soul stirring


A solar eclipse can be one of the most soul stirring and quietly electrifying sights you may ever see. No doubt those who are lucky enough to see the total solar eclipse in Oregon in August, 2017 will concur. The moment darkness descends midday is a sight few could ever forget, and an awe-inspiring reminder of the dynamic nature of our planet. Here are a few interesting facts about the unforgettable phenomenon.

Staggering solar arrangement

Remarkably, while the sun is 400 times the diameter of the moon, the sun is correspondingly 400 times the distance from the moon. This staggering solar arrangement allows for a spectacular sight once every so often when the moon passes into the path of the sun, eclipsing it completely.

The Sun is 400 times the diameter of the Moon...but 400 times the distance
The Sun is 400 times the diameter of the Moon...but 400 times the distance

Sailing moon

If you're lucky enough to see a solar eclipse, reflect on the fact that the moon is sailing through space at an incredible 3,683 kilometres per hour or 2,288 miles per hour. Of course the moon is moving no faster than it ever does, but it becomes far more discernible during a solar eclipse when you can almost feel the earth move beneath your feet! By the way, the shadow the eclipse casts across Earth races along at 1,100 miles per hour at the equator and up to 5,000 miles per hour close to the poles.

Swiftly sailing moon
Swiftly sailing moon

Majestic corona

When the moon completely covers the sun, the sun's magnificent corona becomes visible. The sun's atmosphere forming the corona stretches millions of kilometres into space and, somewhat mysteriously, has a temperature millions of degrees higher than the sun's surface. Some scientists now believe streaming jets of plasma blast out from the sun's surface and effectively explode in the sun's atmosphere producing the observed mega hot temperatures and magnificent corona we witness during totality.

Beautiful corona
Beautiful corona

How long?

The duration of totality, the point at which the sun is completely eclipsed, isn't always the same. This is due to the elliptical orbit of Earth around the sun and the elliptical orbit of the moon around Earth, which means the moon is not always the same distance from Earth, and Earth is not always the same distance from the moon.

Longest eclipse will be in...

The maximum time for totality is 7 minutes 32 seconds, but you'll have to wait until June 13, 2132 to experience that. The 2017 total eclipse that will be visible from Oregon is expected to last 2 minutes 42 seconds. Long enough to witness the beauty of the majestic corona.

Viewing safety

Don't be tempted to look at the sun directly, not even a slither of it as its powerful rays will damage your retina for life. It's simply not worth the risk. The only exception to this is at the point of totality when the sun is completely eclipsed, but even then extreme caution ought to be employed. One of the safest ways to view a solar eclipse is by the use of specially designed eclipse glasses. These are not sun glasses! They look like the kind of glasses you get at the cinema for watching 3D movies. If they're in good working order, you will see absolutely nothing when looking through them other than the sun. You may see a halogen lamp through them if you'd like to test them, but other than that, everything should be blacked out. Test them first. They ought to be ISO approved, specifically designed for viewing the sun, and without scratches of any kind. If you can see anything when you look through them with the exception of the sun and a halogen lamp, discard and replace them.

Watch safely with approved glasses
Watch safely with approved glasses

Soul stirring

However you experience a solar eclipse, the exciting moment the moon blocks out the sun, is for many of us, a beautiful reminder that this not too ideal world we've set up, is subject to forces considerably higher than our own. If you intend to enjoy the solar eclipse that will be visible from Oregon in August, 2017, you'll no doubt see an unforgettable sight, but just make you sure you enjoy it safely.

A solar eclipse is a gentle reminder of our place
A solar eclipse is a gentle reminder of our place

When will the next solar eclipse happen?

As for the next opportunity to witness a total solar eclipse, you will have to travel to Chile or Argentina on December 14, 2020. Not long at all by cosmic standards. As far as the US is concerned, the next solar eclipse will be on October 14, 2023. This won't be a total eclipse, however, but an annular eclipse, which simply means the edges of the sun will be visible around the moon's edge as a bright halo.


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