Eclipses — Solar & Lunar
An eclipse is the result of the total or partial masking of a celestial body by another along an observer’s line of sight. Solar eclipses result from the Moon blocking the Sun relative to the Earth; thus Earth, Moon and Sun all lie on a line. Lunar eclipses work the same way in a different order: Moon, Earth and Sun all on a line. In this case the Earth’s shadow hides the Moon from view.
Solar Eclipse and Lunar Eclipse
From our perspective on Earth, two types of eclipses occur: lunar, the blocking of the Moon by Earth’s shadow, and solar, the obstruction of the Sun by the Moon. When the Moon passes between Sun and Earth, the lunar shadow is seen as a solar eclipse on Earth. When Earth passes directly between Sun and Moon, its shadow creates a lunar eclipse.
Lunar eclipses can only happen when the Moon is opposite the Sun in the sky, a monthly occurrence we know as a full Moon. But lunar eclipses do not occur every month because the Moon’s orbit is tilted five degrees from Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Without the tilt, lunar eclipses would occur every month.
Lunar and solar eclipses occur with about equal frequency. Lunar eclipses are more widely visible because Earth casts a much larger shadow on the Moon during a lunar eclipse than the Moon casts on Earth during a solar eclipse. As a result, you are more likely to see a lunar eclipse than a solar eclipse.
A solar eclipse has always had a more profound effect on humans than a lunar eclipse. This is probably because of the importance of the Sun to all life on Earth. In ancient China, a solar eclipse was thought to be the dragon coming to eat the Sun. The effect that an eclipse has on all life on Earth is of particular interest to scientists. They eagerly await a solar eclipse because it helps them to gather more knowledge about the Sun and its position with respect to Earth.