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What is a solar eclipse?

Source: Jon Sullivan, WikiCommons

Source: Jon Sullivan, WikiCommons

Thursday, March 12, 2015, 11:48 GMT -

A solar eclipse will bring darkness to parts of Europe on Friday 20th March, with the eclipse partially visible from the UK.

But what is a solar eclipse and why do they occur?

The basic definition of an eclipse is ‘an obscuring of the light from one celestial body by the passage of another between it and the observer or between it and the source of illumination’.

On earth this occurs when the earth or the moon get in the way of each other’s light from the sun.

There are two different types of eclipse. A solar eclipse is when the Moon directly passes between the Earth and Sun, creating a shadow on the Earth.

How a solar eclipse occurs. Source: Wikipedia

How a solar eclipse occurs. Source: Wikipedia

In comparison, a lunar eclipse is when the Moon passes into the Earth’s shadow.

A solar eclipse is seen by us on earth when the Sun gradually becomes partially or completely obscured by the Moon. When the Sun becomes totally covered by the Moon, a total solar eclipse has occurred.

As the Moon’s orbit around the Earth varies over time, the Moon sometimes is too small to entirely cover the Sun. This type of eclipse is called an annular eclipse.

However, the moon is particularly close to the earth at the moment and will therefore appear big enough to completely cover the sun on 20th March.

The Faroe Islands and Svalbard will be the only inhabited places able to see the total eclipse, but much of Europe, including the UK, will be able to see a partial eclipse.

Solar eclipses occur between two and five times a year. The last partial eclipse viewable from the UK was only around four years ago on 4th January 2011.

However, total solar eclipses are seen very rarely in any one location on Earth. The last one over the UK was back on 11th August 1999, when the path of the eclipse passed directly over Cornwall and south Devon.

The next total eclipse in the UK wont be until September 2090 when once again it will be the far south of England seeing the best views.

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