What is a Solar Eclipse?

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PHOENIX -- A  solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon fully or partially blocks the Sun.  In a total eclipse, the Sun is fully obscured by the Moon. In partial and annular eclipses only part of the Sun is obscured1.

On Sunday, May 20, 2012 will bring an annular eclipse of the sun across Asia, the Pacific Ocean, and the western United States. 

During the first 2012 annular solar eclipse, the moon's orbit will be at its furthest distance from Earth, which means the smallest amount of the sun will be blocked, and a large bright ring of light will appear around the outside of the sun.

The next solar eclipse will be the total solar eclipse on November 13, 2012.

A solar eclipse should not be confused with a lunar eclipse, which occurs when the Moon passes behind the Earth so that the Earth blocks the Sun's rays from striking the Moon. A lunar eclipse can occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly, or very closely so, with the Earth in the middle. As a result, a lunar eclipse can only occur the night of a full moon.

The type and length of an eclipse depend upon the Moon's location relative to its orbital nodes. The most recent total lunar eclipse occurred on December 10, 2011.

IMPORTANT CAUTION: Never look directly at the sun with the naked eye or using a telescope or binoculars without adequate eye protection.  Special equipment, such as a #14 welder's glass or a solar filter can be used.


1 Solar Eclipse - Wikipedia
2 Lunar Eclipse - Wikipedia