Solar Eclipses: All You Need to Know About the 4 Types

  • Aug 03, 2017

By Earth Networks Meteorologist, Rebecca Huff

Imagine being outdoors and the sky fades to dark in a matter of a few minutes. The clock reads midday. It’s not a bird, not a plane, not even clouds but it’s actually the moon!

It's not a bird or a plane - It's the moon! #solareclipse Click To Tweet

Total Eclipse Science

You have just witnessed a total solar eclipse but what is an eclipse? A total solar eclipse only happens when the new moon is in a straight line with the sun and earth. During its lunar orbit, the moon passes in between the sun and earth completely covering the sun and all its light turning day into night. Total solar eclipses happen about every 1 to 2 years and can only be seen at certain latitudes on Earth depending on where the moon is in its orbit.

The only light seen surrounding the total eclipse is called a corona. The corona is plasma that extends millions of miles around our sun and stars like it. Remarkably, the sun’s corona is much hotter than the actual surface of the sun.

The next total solar eclipse is set to occur on August 21, 2017. Several cities across the U.S. will be able to see the total eclipse including Salem, Ore., Lincoln, Neb., Kansas City, Mo., Nashville, Tenn., and Charleston, S.C. The maximum point of the eclipse will take place over Hopkinsville, Ky., at approximately 10:45 a.m. CDT and will last just over 2 minutes.

The 3 Types

There are four types of solar eclipses; a partial solar eclipse, an annular solar eclipse, a hybrid solar eclipse and, as described above, a total solar eclipse. Let’s take a look at the eclipses other than solar:

Partial Eclipse

A partial solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in between the sun and earth, without being in a straight line. The result is that the moon only covers part of the sun’s light. Approximately 35 percent of solar eclipses are partial solar eclipses and they can happen between 1 and 3 times a year.

Annual Eclipse

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s distance affects how much of the sun’s light is blocked during the eclipse. You can still see the sun’s outer edges even while the moon is covering most of the disk. This causes the so called “ring of fire.” These annular solar eclipses happen about once a year.

Hybrid Eclipse

Hybrid solar eclipses are the rarest of eclipses. This is dependent on the viewer on earth’s surface. In some areas, it will look like a total solar eclipse and in other areas, it will look like an annular eclipse. This has everything to do with the viewer’s angle of sight with respect to the location of the sun and moon. These eclipses happen about once every 10 years.

There are 4 types of #solareclipses 🌞 Click To Tweet

Eclipse Protection

Solar eclipses are an amazing sight but even while covered by the moon, the sun’s UV rays are still very harmful to viewer’s retinas. The worst burn can cause temporary or even permanent blindness. To prevent eye damage, the best way to view this awesome sight is a projector or a filter.

Check online for an easy to make projector made of a shoebox or order proper eclipse glasses from a reputable source. NASA experts recommend using welder’s glasses with a rating of 14 or higher for the best protection. The only time it is ok to look directly at the eclipse is during a total solar eclipse. Once the moon is completely covering the sun it cannot harm your eyes until the sun emerges again.

Eclipse Tourism & History

Many are booking hotels and planning eclipse trips to go and see the amazing phenomenon. Hopkinsville, Ky., will be a much larger tourist attraction this year, thanks to the moon and its orbit. The last total solar eclipse witnessed by the United States was in 1979 and it was visible for those in the Pacific Northwest through the northern Plains.

The next solar eclipse will be a partial one and will take place on February 15, 2018. You can view it from southern South America and anywhere in Antarctica. The U.S. won’t see any solar eclipses until the annular eclipse that will take place on June 10, 2021. Those in the upper Great Lakes through the Northeast will have the best chance of seeing the celestial phenomenon.

Check out our solar eclipse countdown post to learn more about this month’s total eclipse.