What can we learn from the night sky? Eclipses

What is a solar eclipse?

Like anything else, the Moon has its own shadow. If the Moon is aligned with the Earth and the Sun, it can cast its shadow onto the Earth. This means the Moon blocks out the Sun.

This will happen on 21 June in 2020. It is called the Ring of Fire because the Moon will not be close enough to completely block out the Sun, leaving the outer edges visible, looking like a ring of light.

The Ring of Fire will be visible from parts of central Africa, including the Central African Republic, Congo, and Ethiopia. It can be seen from 04:09 to 06:41 UTC (or 06:09 to 08:41 SAST).

How to watch a solar eclipse safely

It is very common for people to permanently damage their eyes and even blind themselves while observing a solar eclipse. You must NOT look directly at the Sun! Doing so will damage your eyes because the light from the Sun is so bright. Even if it doesn’t hurt much during an eclipse when the light is blocked, doing so for a long time will still cause damage. Eclipses can last for hours, so you must bear this in mind.

It is possible to buy solar filters that will let you safely watch the eclipse through them but you must ensure that they are both safe and legitimate.

What is a lunar eclipse?

Just as the Moon can cast a shadow on the Earth, the Earth can cast a shadow on the Moon. This is called a lunar eclipse. There are 3 types of lunar eclipses: penumbral, partial and total.

‘Penumbral’ eclipses occur when the Moon enters the Earth’s ‘penumbra’. The ‘penumbra’ is the partially shaded outer region of a shadow where some but not all of the light is blocked. 

Every shadow has a penumbra. Shadows made by torches and fires at night can often look blurry. This blurry outer region is the penumbra.

During a ‘penumbral’ eclipse the brightness of the Moon will be slightly decreased. It is not obvious and can be harder to notice.

There will be 4 ‘penumbral’ lunar eclipses in 2020. These will occur on 10 January, 5 June, 4 July and 29 November.

A partial eclipse is when part of the Moon enters the true shadow of the Earth where all light is blocked. It appears as if a section of the Moon is missing. The next partial lunar eclipse visible from Africa will be on 18 November 2020 where most of the Moon will be shadowed.

A total eclipse occurs if the Moon completely enters the Earth’s true shadow. The next total eclipse visible from Africa will be on 15 May 2022.

Moonlight is much less bright than sunlight, so it is entirely safe to watch a lunar eclipse directly.

You can visit timeanddate.com to find more information on when eclipses will occur and where they will be visible.

Marwin Ramos

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