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2024 Total Solar Eclipse on April 8: Know the science behind eclipses – A layman’s guide

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Photos of an annular total solar eclipse (left) and a total solar eclipse (right). Left, Annular Eclipse: Stefan Seip (Oct 3, 2005). Right, Total Eclipse, NASA/Aubrey Gemignani (August 21, 2017) (Image credit: NASA website) NASA […]

On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross North America, passing over Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Photos of an annular total solar eclipse (left) and a total solar eclipse (right). Left, Annular Eclipse: Stefan Seip (Oct 3, 2005). Right, Total Eclipse, NASA/Aubrey Gemignani (August 21, 2017) (Image credit: NASA website)

NASA explains the intricate science underlying the occurrence of eclipses, which transpire when the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth align in a particular configuration. This alignment dictates the type of eclipse witnessed.

In this accessible overview, we explore the scientific principles governing eclipses, demystifying these celestial phenomena. From the basic mechanisms driving eclipses to the imminent 2024 Total Solar Eclipse scheduled for April 8, we unveil the mysteries surrounding these captivating cosmic events.

Why do Solar eclipses take place?

Eclipses manifest when the Sun, Moon, and Earth align in a precise manner. The nature of the eclipse is determined by the alignment of these celestial bodies. Solar eclipses occur when the Moon moves between the Sun and Earth, casting its shadow upon Earth.

Solar eclipses exclusively occur during the new moon phase, when the Moon and Sun align on the same side of Earth.

Theoretically, solar eclipses should occur every month during the new moon, but this is not the case due to the slight tilt in the Moon’s orbit around Earth. Consequently, during most new moons, the Moon either passes above or below the Sun, missing Earth’s shadow.

The Moon’s orbit around Earth is tilted by approximately five degrees, contributing to the rarity of solar eclipses.

There are two eclipse seasons annually when the new moon intersects the Earth-Sun plane, presenting opportunities for solar eclipses.

What triggers an Solar eclipse?

Eclipses occur as a result of the unique alignment of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.

Despite appearing to be of similar size in the sky, the Sun is approximately 400 times wider than the Moon and is also roughly 400 times farther away.

This alignment allows the Moon to completely obstruct the Sun’s light during total solar eclipses.

However, due to the non-circular nature of the Moon’s orbit around Earth, there are occasions when it appears slightly smaller than the Sun.

Eclipses occurring during this phase of the Moon’s orbit are termed annular eclipses, where a luminous “ring of fire” encircles the darkened center of the Sun.

When will solar eclipse be visible in India?

Cosmic lovers in India will not be able to view this event. Fans all over the world are headed to the US to witness the astronomical spectacle from the air.

Notably, in 2031, the Annular Solar Eclipse on May 21 will cover around 28.87 percent of the Sun and be visible across several Indian cities.

This “ring of fire” eclipse will grace the skies of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The cities of Kochi, Alappuzha, Chalakudy, Kottayam, Tiruvalla, Pathanamthitta, Painavu, Gudalur (Theni), Theni, Madurai, Ilaiyangudi, Karaikudi, and Vedaranyam, will witness the 2031 solar eclipse.

It is advisable to avoid looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse as it is unsafe and can cause damage to the eyes. Specialised eye protection for solar viewing must be worn to have a view of the astronomical event.

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