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Solar and Lunar Eclipses


    There are two types of eclipses -- when the moon is directly between the Earth and the sun (solar eclipse) and when the Earth is directly between the moon and the sun (lunar eclipse).  Because the orbit of the moon around the Earth does not line up with the orbit of the Earth around the sun, eclipses do not occur at every full and new moon.  Instead, the orbits line up twice a year, causing "eclipse seasons" in spring and fall.


    Solar eclipses are somewhat more rare than lunar eclipses.  Because of the geometry of the shadows, solar eclipses are viewable from only a tiny area on the earth at one time and do not last very long.  For a total solar eclipse the moon must completely block out the disk of the sun.  The sun is dangerous to look at without the proper eye protection, even if it looks like it is nearly eclipsed.  There are affordable methods of precaution available (see "Eye Safety" at  The next total solar eclipse visible in North America will be on August 21, 2017, with the best possible location in western Tennessee.  To view NASA's map of where the total eclipse will be visible, click here.  Fred Espenak of NASA is one of the leading scientists in the prediction and photographing of eclipses.  For more information on this subject, we would definitely suggest his website


    Lunar eclipses are more common than solar eclipses.  The Earth's shadow is large compared to the moon, so the moon during a lunar eclipse stays dark sometimes over an hour.  An eclipsed moon also has a wonderful orange/red color to it when it is totally in the Earth's umbral shadow.  A lunar eclipse is safe to look at, although if you are using a telescope, you will want to use a filter (to block some of the reflected light).  For more information on lunar eclipses, see the Fred Espenak website  The next few total lunar eclipses visible in North America will be (with time referring to the beginning of the umbral phase):



Time (PST)



October 27, 2004

6:14:26 pm

N. America, S. America, W. Europe, W. Africa

1 hr. 50 min.

March 3, 2007

1:30:04 pm

N. America (E. coast), S. America, Africa, Europe, Asia

1 hr. 51 min.

August 28, 2007

1:50:57 am

N. America, S. America, Asia, Australia

1 hr. 46 min.

February 20, 2008

5:42:59 pm

N. America, S. America, Europe, Africa

1 hr. 43 min.



For more information on eclipses, please visit the NASA website and Fred Espenak's website


*Photographs taken by Fred Espenak (Mr. Eclipse).


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