Wednesday, June 4, 2008

What is a Solar Eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth so that the Sun is wholly or partially obscured. This can only happen during a new moon, when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction as seen from the Earth. Up to four solar eclipses occur each year, but total solar eclipses are nevertheless rare at any location because during each eclipse totality exists only in the relatively tiny area of the Moon's umbra.

A total solar eclipse is a spectacular natural phenomenon and many people travel to remote locations to observe one. The 1999 total eclipse in Europe helped to increase public awareness of the phenomenon, as illustrated by the number of journeys made specifically to witness the 2005 annular eclipse and the 2006 total eclipse. The next solar eclipse will occur on August 1, 2008, and will be a total eclipse.

In ancient times, and in some cultures today, solar eclipses have been attributed to supernatural causes. Total solar eclipses can be frightening for people who are unaware of their astronomical explanation, as the Sun seems to disappear in the middle of the day and the sky darkens in a matter of minutes.

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