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24th July 2014
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The Guide to Life, The Universe and Everything.

1. Life / Health & Healing / Medical Conditions, Procedures & Prevention
1. Life / The Natural World / Natural Phenomena
2. The Universe / General Astronomy
2. The Universe / The Solar System / The Sun
3. Everything / Maths, Science & Technology / Astronomy

Created: 25th August 1999
Total Solar Eclipses
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Painting of a total solar eclipse.

Earth is notable in that its solitary natural satellite, known to most of us under the frighteningly original name of 'the Moon', is of a size great enough that at some points in its orbital path it can eclipse the Sun completely, but small enough that such an eclipse allows the Sun's corona to be visible. When at a spot from which a 'total eclipse' is visible, an observer can see a number of exciting effects that astronomers have come up with lots of clever names for, but which to most of us are best summed up as 'pretty' or 'impressive', or in some cases even 'pretty impressive'.

One such effect occasionally seen is Bailey's Beads1, where a sequence of spots of light appears along the edge of the Moon. This is caused by the sun shining through the valleys of the Moon's mountainous regions.

We are at the only time in the Earth's history when such effects will be visible, because the Moon is moving away from us slowly (by approximately half an inch per year), and in years to come we won't get these effects.

The superstitious nature of our planet's population means that many us read great significance into such events. Some believe that they are portents or omens for catastrophes and other really bad stuff, having failed to notice that such eclipses actually take place every two or so years (albeit in different points above the globe), thus giving the really bad stuff that happens all the time a fair chance of happening straight after an eclipse.

Total Eclipses are also noted as affecting Earth's prolific tourist industry. Whenever a total eclipse occurs places that happen to be on the path of the eclipse suddenly find themselves inundated with people who live close enough to the path of the eclipse to be affected by what has become known as the 'hmmm, it might be interesting to see that' effect. Perhaps those people living in such places should be warned to abstain from procreational activities nine months before the eclipse takes place, it being unlikely that anyone giving birth in such a place during the eclipse will be able to get medical assistance due to the area being thoroughly congested with people who 'thought it might look nice'. Anyone able to get to a medical facility while giving birth during an eclipse is likely to find that all medical personnel are already over-burdened with the task of saying 'I told you so' to all those people who have sustained retinal damage by viewing the eclipse in any of the ways which they were warned not to.

The following table shows the upcoming total solar eclipses for the next few years:

DateRegion Visible
13 Nov 2012Australia, Kermadec Islands and New Zealand
20 March 2015North Atlantic regions, Faroe Islands and the North Pole
9 March 2016Indonesia
21 August 2016Parts of the mid- and west USA

1 Named after the British astronomer Francis Bailey who discovered them.

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Referenced Entries:

Astronomy for Amateurs
What's the Point of Astronomy?
The Sun
How to View a Solar Eclipse
The Moon
An Amazing A-Z of Space


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