Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely

Astronomical events like solar eclipses pique the curiosity of children. But how do you explain what a solar eclipse is and the different types of solar eclipses to kids in simple words? Read on!

By Team ParentCircle

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely

A solar eclipse is a phenomenal thing — it is a marvellous celestial dance performed by the sun, moon and the Earth. In scientific terms, the eclipse simply illustrates how our solar system works as the moon travels between the sun and Earth. 

For kids, witnessing a real-time solar eclipse could be a significant and life-changing moment in their little lives. It might spur their interest and curiosity to learn more about space and science. No science class in school can recreate this personal experience. It might even set the path to an exciting career choice. And for parents, the eclipse is an opportunity to create an incredible moment and memory for their children. If your child is interested in learning more about space, and is particularly curious about solar eclipses, then you have come to the right place! Here is everything you need to learn about solar eclipses. Keep reading...

What is a solar eclipse?

The meaning of 'eclipse' is to overshadow. And that’s exactly what happens during a solar or lunar eclipse. When the moon comes between the earth and the sun, causing the moon to cast a shadow on the earth, a solar eclipse occurs. Not all solar eclipses that occur are total ones.

What are the different types of solar eclipses? 

Do you know that a solar eclipse can occur only during a 'new' moon phase. However, different scenarios can create four different types of solar eclipses. These are: total solar eclipse, partial solar eclipse, annular solar eclipse and hybrid solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely

Total solar eclipse: This is when the moon passes exactly between the sun and earth. The sun is completely covered casting a shadow of the moon along a narrow region of the earth's surface.

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely

Partial solar eclipse: Sometimes the moon only covers a portion of the sun, creating a partial solar eclipse. During a partial solar eclipse, the moon appears to take a nibble or bite out of the sun as it crosses only part of the solar disk. Part of the sun remains in view during the eclipse, so never look at a partial eclipse without eye protection.

Annular solar eclipses or so called 'ring of fire': 

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely

These eclipses happen when the moon is farthest from Earth. Due to the moon’s large distance from the earth it is unable to cover the entire sun thus leaving the sun’s outer edges visible forming a 'ring of fire'. It looks as if a dark disk is on top of a larger, glowing disk, creating a ring around the moon. This is the type of eclipse that will be visible on 26 December.

Hybrid solar eclipse or annular total eclipse: These are truly strange eclipses that transform from one type to another. They can appear as a total eclipse from some points on the earth but as an annular eclipse from others.

Do you know what umbra, penumbra and antumbra mean? 

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely

Umbra, penumbra and antumbra refer to the different 'shadow' parts of a solar eclipse. The darkest part of the shadow of the moon is called Umbra. The lighter part towards the edges of the shadow is known as Penumbra. And the bright ring around a shadow is known as Antumbra. In Latin, umbra means shadow.

Where to watch solar eclipse 2019 in India?

Visibility of the eclipse from different cities in India: The Ministry of Earth Sciences has declared that the annular solar eclipse will occur after sunrise on December 26 from 9 a.m. to 12.29 p.m. Indian cities that can witness this spectacle are:

Tamil Nadu
  • Coimbatore
  • Ootacamund (Ooty)
  • Erode
  • Karur
  • Dindigul
  • Sivaganga
  • Tiruchirappalli
  • Pudukkottai

Karnataka

  • Bangalore
  • Mangaluru

The best views will be in South India.

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely
Mr Eclipse Fred Espenak

ParentCircle had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Mr Fred Espenak, well-known to the world as Mr Eclipse. Fred is a retired NASA astrophysicist and one of the world’s greatest eclipse expert. He has travelled across the world to witness eclipses – he has been on every continent to witness one and has viewed over 29 total eclipses in his lifetime! In a video interview with the legend himself, he shares some exclusive inputs for parents in India, who are gearing up to experience the spectacular event on December 26 with their children.

Fred Espenak (Mr Eclipse) says: In most parts of India, the eclipse will be partial. Only in the southern part of India, the eclipse will appear as annular. The ring of fire of the eclipse will be visible only for three minutes whereas the whole solar eclipse would be longer – lasting for three hours. The annular phase where the sun become a ring starts at about 9.27 a.m. As it will last for three minutes, it will end at 9.30 a.m. The partial phase of the eclipse would finally end at 11 a.m.

Here is the map which shows the path of the eclipse. Any place which is nearer to the centre will have better views of the eclipse. The closer you are to the middle of the path, the longer the annular phase of the eclipse will last. If you are in the very centre of that map, then you get to watch the full three minutes of the annular phase. The closer you are to the edge, the shorter will be the viewing time, and the ring would be visible only for a minute from these places. If you are outside of the path, you will only see a crescent.

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely
Map of India showing the path of Dec 26 solar eclipse
In Bangalore there is tangible anticipation among space enthusiasts and the student community with the visibility expected to be around 90 per cent. Pramod G Galgali, Director of the Jawaharlal Nehru Planetarium, (JNP) Bangalore said, “It is a great opportunity for students to learn different aspects of a phenomenon like the eclipse. As a run-up to the event, JNP will conduct workshops for teachers and high-school students on annular Solar Eclipse. The Planetarium has also organised five to six telescopes with viewing screens for December 26. Safe eclipse goggles will also be available to the public at the rate of Rs 35 per piece. The Director also gives a handy safety tip stating that only welder’s glasses of 14 shade and higher are suitable for eclipse viewing and urged the public to watch the event safely.

Meanwhile in Chennai, Lenin Tamilkovan, Scientific Officer, Tamil Nadu Science and Technology Centre are excited at the prospect of hosting three to four thousand science enthusiasts in Chennai to view the solar eclipse and have made all the necessary arrangements. They have the gear including telescopes, welders’ glasses and eclipse glasses ready. He adds, “It is a rare astronomical event, you may not get a better chance to see solar eclipse in your entire lifetime. We urge everyone to come and view this once-in-a-lifetime event” He was also thrilled that people are debunking myths surrounding eclipses and coming out to watch them.

Visibility will decrease in Northern and Eastern India. Scientists have predicted that the partial phase of the eclipse is set to begin at 8 a.m. with the annular phase commencing an hour later at 9.06 a.m.

Dr T V Venkateswaran, Scientist, Vigyan Prasar is excited about the upcoming eclipse and will be watching it from Avinashi near Coimbatore. An avid supporter of educating the masses on scientific concepts, he feels events like solar eclipses are the perfect opportunity to spread scientific temper among people. In addition, his department is conducting workshops and doable hands-on activities based on the solar eclipse. He signs off by saying students can learn many interesting concepts through these simple experiments.

When is the next solar eclipse?

After the 26 December solar eclipse, the next annular solar eclipse is set to appear on 21 June 2020. And the next 'total' solar eclipse will be on 8 April 2024.

Here are the eclipses in 2020:

  • 10–11 January, Lunar Eclipse (Penumbral)
  • 5–6 June, Lunar Eclipse (Penumbral)
  • 21 June, Solar Eclipse (Annular)
  • 4–5 July, Lunar Eclipse (Penumbral)
  • 29–30 November, Lunar Eclipse (Penumbral)
  • 14 December, Solar Eclipse (Total)

Here are the eclipses in 2021:

  • 26 May, Lunar Eclipse (Total)
  • 10 June, Solar Eclipse (Annular)
  • 18–19 November, Lunar Eclipse (Partial)
  • 4 December, Solar Eclipse (Total)

Here are the eclipses in 2022:

  • 30 April, Solar Eclipse (Partial)
  • 15–16 May, Lunar Eclipse (Total)
  • 25 October, Solar Eclipse (Partial)
  • 8 November, Lunar Eclipse (Total)

When was the last solar eclipse?

The third and final solar eclipse of 2019, an annular or 'ring of fire' eclipse was the last solar eclipse that occurred on 26 December 2019. It was visible in various countries including Borneo, Guam, India, Malaysia, Northern Mariana Islands, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and United Arab Emirates. A partial eclipse was visible in other parts of Asia, Africa and Australia.

The solar eclipse which was visible in India earlier to the 26 December one, appeared on 2 July 2019. It was a total solar eclipse. It was a short eclipse and lasted only for four minutes and 33 seconds.

How to safely see the solar eclipse?

To have an enjoyable and safe eclipse viewing experience you need special protective eyewear or eclipse glasses. Avoid using basic sunglasses even if they have UV protection as they will not protect your eyes adequately.

In case you plan on documenting the eclipse with photo equipment, there are special solar filters such as eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers you can add to make certain the remaining ring of sunlight doesn’t affect your vision. Make sure you check your solar filter for scratches or damages before the viewing and replace it if so.

If you wish to document the eclipse, a simple, wide angle photograph should help capture the moment even if you are just using your mobile phone. Do not use a camera, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device at any stage of the eclipse and never use solar filters with these devices as the concentrated solar rays will cause serious damage to your eyes.

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely
Mr Eclipse Fred Espenak

Fred Espenak (Mr Eclipse) says: During an annular eclipse like the one occurring on 26 December, there is simply no safe time to view the eclipse with the naked eye. In an annular eclipse, even during the maximum phase, which is called annularity, where the sun and the moon is surrounded by the bright ring, it is not advisable to view the eclipse without proper solar filters. When the eclipse is in its peak, you still have to use the filter. That’s why it is billed as a dangerous eclipse. People are advised to view it with proper eye protection at all times.

Solar filters are the ideal to view eclipse. These filters are easy to use, you can just pop them up and view the eclipse. Or even a pair of solar goggles or glasses are apt, as these can be shared among family members during the eclipse. As eclipse takes place over a period of two hours or more, so there are plenty of opportunities to take turns with the glasses and view the eclipse. Solar glasses are my favourite as it is simple and direct. Everybody can put them on, take a look and give them to someone else.

Or you can go to any planetarium or science centre where eclipse viewing is arranged in your city. Also, people can also view the webcast of the eclipse. However, if you are in a place where eclipse is visible, it’s always better to go out and watch it.

The best thing about watching a solar eclipse is that, you don’t need any big expensive telescope or technical know-how to enjoy this phenomenon. You can just have a pair of simple solar glasses or even go to a science centre or museum to watch this. It is wonderful to be able to experience it personally and look at the eclipse through a pair of safe glasses or through projection. It is inspirational.

Safety tips for your solar eclipse viewing party from eye doctors

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely

It is of utmost importance to wear special protective eyewear or eclipse glasses to safely observe a solar eclipse. Directly looking at the sun even during an annular eclipse can lead to blindness or other forms of permanent eye damage if you don’t opt for proper eye protection. Dr Bina John, Ophthalmologist, Rajan Eye Care Hospital, T Nagar, Chennai has some words of advice for those who want to view the eclipse. While she wants interested person out to view this rare celestial event, she warns you to take care not to expose your eyes to the eclipse. 

She elaborates saying, “Direct view of the sun during eclipse could lead to cell damage in the retina. So, always use proper eye wear before enjoying the solar eclipse.” She also advises parents of young children to make sure that children do not view the solar eclipse without proper eye protection. About eclipse goggles, Dr Bina says that it is always better to source these from genuine source like planetariums.

Dr Mohan Rajan, Chairman and MD of Rajan Eye Care Hospital, Chennai shares some more points on safe viewing of eclipse. Here are the solar eclipse dos and don’ts to avoid 'eclipse blindness':

1. Exposing your eyes to the sun without proper eye protection during a solar eclipse can cause 'eclipse blindness' or retinal burns, also known as solar retinopathy. Solar observation more than 90 seconds exceeds threshold of retinal damage. Sunlight that reaches the earth contains enough harmful ultraviolet rays to cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina (the back of the eye) that transmit what you see to the brain. This damage can be temporary or permanent and occurs with no pain. It can take a few hours to a few days after viewing the solar eclipse to realise the damage that has occurred.

2. The symptoms you can have are loss of central vision (solar retinopathy), distorted vision, altered colour vision. 

3. Be careful about how you watch a solar eclipse. It is not recommended to view it in the following ways: 

  • Smart phones
  • Camera viewfinder
  • Unsafe filter; unless specifically designed for viewing a solar eclipse, no filter is safe to use with any optical device (telescopes, binoculars, etc).

All these items can increase your risk of damaging your eyes. It is safer to use readily available eclipse viewers which can be found online and may be safe to watch the celestial movement.

Solar eclipse and the superstitions/myths around it

Fred Espenak (Mr Eclipse) speaks on myths surrounding eclipses: Yes, there are a lot of superstition and beliefs around eclipse that have developed over thousands of years. In countries like India, China, African nations and even in European nations, a lot of mythology, folklores are about eclipses and its harmful effects on pregnant women and unborn children.

However, modern day science does not accept that and there is no scientific evidence to substantiate such claims too. There is no truth to them. The only real significance of eclipse is that one has to be very careful looking at eclipse because of the dangers of the sun’s brightness. One important point to note is that during eclipse the sun does not produce any different kinds of rays than it does during a sunny day. The only big difference is our curiosity. For example, during a bright sunny day, we know it’s dangerous to look directly at the sun but during an eclipse, we are tempted because of curiosity to look at the Sun and stare at it. And that’s where the danger lies. 

How many solar eclipses occur per year? If solar eclipses happen multiple times a year, why haven’t I seen one?

Each year there are two to seven solar eclipses according to EarthSky. Total solar eclipses are rare and only once every 18 months.
When a solar eclipse occurs, only a subset of Earth can see it. The people on the night side of the Earth can’t see the Sun, so they miss the eclipse. Furthermore, as the Moon’s shadow is smaller than the Earth, people in certain places will be unable to see the eclipse, the Moon will look to be slightly north of the sun in the sky.

Why are some eclipses longer than others?

Orbital variations cause some total solar eclipses to last longer than others. The moon is round, so its shadow creates a dark circle or oval on Earth’s surface. Where someone is within that shadow also affects how long their solar blackout lasts. People in the centre of the shadow’s path get a longer eclipse than do people near the edge of the path.

Message from Mr Eclipse to parents who are raising space enthusiasts

If you have a child who is inspired by astronomy, the eclipse could ignites that interest. Not everybody who sees an eclipse would become an astronaut, but this eclipse could make children think that science is cool, it is interesting. To keep them interested, you can check the internet for any astronomy clubs or organisations in your city or nearby. These places have regular meetups or sessions on astronomy to suit all levels of interest. Or you can take your child to any science centre or planetarium and find out what kind of programme they offer for children. This would help children and young adults to learn more about astronomy. Look for public outreach programmes of organisations related to space in your city too. This eclipse could even inspire them to take up different streams of science like medicine or engineering. The eclipse could be a stepping stone in that direction. Let you child go off smart phones or televisions and let them study the real world around them!

ParentCircle Solar Eclipse Special: Exclusive video interview with Mr Eclipse Fred Espenak! Watch it right here!

How to make your own pinhole camera

If you still wish to observe an eclipse indirectly, one more option is to use a pinhole camera that you can make at home. 

Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely
Vintage pinhole camera

Materials

  • Two pieces of thick white card stock
  • Aluminium foil
  • Tape
  • Paper clip or pin

Instructions

  • Step 1: In the middle of one of the card stock pieces cut a square hole
  • Step 2: Use your tape and fix the aluminium foil over the hole
  • Step 3: Using your paper clip or pin poke a small hole in the foil
  • Step 4: Place the second card stock on the ground and hold the taped piece with aluminium foil above it (the foil has to face up). Stand with the sun behind your back and observe the projected image below. Your projected image will be bigger if you hold your camera further away. To get a clearer image, place the second stock card in the shade while you hold the other piece in the sunlight.
  • Step 5: If you want to experiment and see different projections of the eclipse you can poke multiple holes in your foil

This December plan a fun eclipse viewing party the day after Christmas with your family. This is a great teach and learn opportunity to stoke your child’s interest in space and other celestial events. Educate your child on what causes these brilliant phenomena and educate them on the importance of implementing safety precautions. If you have the time, create your own pinhole camera together with your child. So, put on your safety goggles and be dazzled!

Also read: How To Become An Astronaut

About the author:

Written by Team ParentCircle on 20 December 2019.

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