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November Wed 14, 2012
Just after sunrise today in Australia, the sky turned dark once again as light was blocked by the moon. It was a rare total solar eclipse. About 50,000 people journeyed to Cairns, Australia to witness the eventA solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, blocking the sun from view. A total solar eclipse is when the moon completely covers the sun, turning day into night. A solar eclipse is not visible everywhere on Earth each time, and a total solar eclipse is only visible along the exact path of the moon’s shadow. This time, only parts of Northern Australia were able to witness the total eclipse. The last total solar eclipse was seen from Earth in July 2010 and the next will not be until March 2015. There has not been one in Australia for decades.Other kinds of eclipses include the partial eclipse, which is when the moon blocks out part of the light of the sun. This can also be seen during a total solar eclipse but outside the range for seeing the sun completely covered. Another type is the annular solar eclipse, in which the moon blocks the sun but seems smaller than the sun, and leaves a ring of sunlight around it. The next annular eclipse will be this May. Lastly, there is the hybrid eclipse, in which the eclipse changes from annular to total depending on where the viewer is located on the trajectory of the moon. These are the rarest.The reason the moon appears the same size as the sun in a total eclipse is that the sun is about 400 times further from the Earth than the moon is, and the sun is about 400 times bigger than the moon. The apparent sizes vary, however, because of the elliptical nature of the obits. That is why sometimes the outside ring of the sun may be seen while other times the sun is completely covered.Not only are eclipses beautiful and fascinating to watch, they are also useful to scientists, who use the moments when the sun’s light is blocked to study the outer-most layer of the sun’s atmosphere. See the video of the solar eclipse on the next page.Stages of a total eclipse: First contact: when the moon first overlaps with the sun Second contact: when the sun is almost covered, and there is a “diamond ring effect”, or Baily’s Beads, when lights shines through valleys on the moon’s surface Totality: the moon covers the entire surface of the sun Third Contact: the moon moves away, and a bright light appears again Fourth Contact: when the moon no longer overlaps with the sun
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