What Is An Eclipse For Kids
How do you describe an eclipse to your child? Here is how to explain the solar eclipse and lunar eclipse to kids in simple terms and with the help of diagrams and images.
By Dr Shyam Kumar
What is an eclipse?
An eclipse is a natural phenomenon that occurs when one celestial object passes into the shadow of another. This is commonly seen when the earth and the moon form a line with the sun.
When the moon’s shadow falls on the earth it is called a solar eclipse.
A lunar eclipse happens when the earth blocks the sun’s light causing its shadow to fall on the moon.
What types of eclipses are there?
On earth, we can experience two types of eclipses:
- Solar eclipses
- Lunar eclipses
Solar eclipse for kids
The solar eclipse is the most spectacular celestial event visible from the earth. In ancient times, the solar eclipse was believed to be a supernatural phenomenon and attributed to the act of gods. In China, people believed that a dragon had swallowed the sun and traditionally banged drums and pots to scare it away. Even today in some cultures, it is considered a bad omen and people shut themselves indoors and refuse to touch food or drinks.
So, what exactly is a solar eclipse?
During its orbit around the earth, the moon comes in between the sun and the earth. This causes the shadow of the moon to fall on some parts of the earth’s surface. The day plunges into total darkness just like night in these regions in case of a total solar eclipse. If it is a partial solar eclipse, there may be a twilight-like appearance during the day, and daylight returns once the phase of the eclipse is over.
What is meant by umbra, penumbra and antumbra?
The shadow of the moon during an eclipse has three parts. One is the umbra, which is the dark shadow formed when the moon completely blocks the sun’s light. A total eclipse occurs in the places this dark shadow, also called the 'zone of totality', happens to fall.
When the moon is further away from the earth, it appears small and does not cover the sun’s disk completely. The shadow formed by such an eclipse extends beyond the umbra and is called the antumbra. The sun appears as a ring around a dark moon when viewed from within the antumbra (annular eclipse).
In areas where the moon partially covers the sun, a lighter shadow is projected on the earth’s surface which is called the penumbra. A partial solar eclipse can be viewed from these regions.
A solar eclipse occurs only when the moon is in the new moon phase. This means that the illuminated portion of the moon is facing away from the earth. Essentially, several factors need to happen simultaneously for an eclipse to happen making it a rare natural event. On an average, 2 to 4 solar eclipses in the same calendar year are known to occur.
Types of solar eclipses
There are 3 main types of solar eclipses:
- Total solar eclipses
- Partial solar eclipses
- Annular eclipses
Read more about the different types of solar eclipses here: Solar Eclipse For Kids: When, Where And How To Watch Safely
How to see a solar eclipse
Never try to view a solar eclipse without using proper eye protection. The sun’s rays can seriously damage your eyes and can even blind you. Also avoid looking at the sun with binoculars or a telescope. Here are some safe ways to look at a solar eclipse.
- Use eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers to view the eclipse directly. These glasses contain special-purpose solar filters to block the harmful solar rays from damaging the retina.
- Pinhole projection is an indirect method of watching the solar eclipse. Learn how to make a pinhole projector to safely watch a solar eclipse.
Dates of upcoming solar eclipses
- Annular solar eclipse on June 21, 2020
- Total solar eclipse on December 14, 2020
- Annular solar eclipse on June 10, 2020
- Total solar eclipse on December 4, 2021
- Partial solar eclipse on April 30, 2022
Lunar eclipse for kids
During a lunar eclipse, the sun, the earth and the moon come in a straight line with the earth in between the sun and the moon. This prevents the sun’s light from reaching the moon and the earth’s shadow falls on the moon's surface making it appear darker.
The lunar eclipse happens only on a full moon day, i.e., when the illuminated surface of the moon faces the earth.
The moon’s orbit around the earth is slightly tilted (5 degrees). The earth’s shadow fails to fall on the moon during every eclipse as the sun isn’t exactly aligned with the earth and the moon. We do not have a lunar eclipse every month due to this reason.
What is a blood moon?
During a total lunar eclipse, the moon appears to have a reddish hue from the sunlight filtering through the earth’s atmosphere. The term ‘blood moon’ is attributed to this reddish colour of the moon.
Types of lunar eclipses
The three basic types of lunar eclipses are:
- Penumbral lunar eclipse
- Partial lunar eclipse
- Total lunar eclipse
Dates of upcoming lunar eclipses
- Total lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021
- Partial lunar eclipse on November 19, 2021
- Total lunar eclipse on May 16, 2022
- Total lunar eclipse on November 8, 2022
- Partial lunar eclipse on October 28, 2023
What is the difference between a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse?
- In a solar eclipse, the moon’s shadow falls on the earth as it passes between the moon and the sun. In a lunar eclipse, it is the earth’s shadow which darkens the moon.
- A solar eclipse occurs in the day and a lunar eclipse occurs during the night.
- Unlike solar eclipses which last for a few minutes, lunar eclipses can last for hours.
- A lunar eclipse is safe to watch with naked eyes. However, it is dangerous to look at the sun during a solar eclipse without using protective filters.
- Direct exposure to sunlight can result in retinal burns (solar retinopathy) leading to blindness and vision problems.
- A lunar eclipse can be seen from all regions of the earth where it is night-time. On the other hand, during a solar eclipse the shadow of the moon falls in a small narrow band across the earth’s surface for a very brief period. It is only in these regions that the darkness caused by the eclipse can be experienced.
Fun facts about eclipses
- The temperature drops on the earth during a solar eclipse.
- The moon’s shadow speeds across the earth’s surface at up to 8,000 km per hour.
- Total solar eclipses can last up to 8 minutes.
- The longest total solar eclipse of the century took place on 22 July 2009. It lasted 6 minutes and 38 seconds.
- The longest annular solar eclipse of this century took place on 15 January 2010, with a duration of 11 minutes and 7.8 seconds.
- Birds and animals often get confused by the sudden darkness cause by a solar eclipse.
- The ‘diamond ring effect’ is caused just before and after a total solar eclipse. Also called ‘Bailey’s beads’, it happens when the sun shines through the valleys present on the moon.
About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 13 January 2020
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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