Total solar eclipses occur when the New Moon comes between the Sun and Earth and casts the darkest part of its shadow, the umbra, on Earth. A full solar eclipse, known as totality, is almost as dark as night. During a total eclipse of the Sun, the Moon covers the entire disk of the Sun. In partial and annular solar eclipses, the Moon blocks only part of the Sun.
Eclipses are normally named after their darkest phase. If a solar eclipse is total at any point on Earth, it is called a total solar eclipse, even though it’s seen as a partial solar eclipse in most areas. However, there is an exception, the hybrid solar eclipse. This type of eclipse is also known as an annular-total eclipse because it changes from an annular to a total solar eclipse, and/or vice versa, along its path.
Complete Solar Eclipse has 5 Phases:
- Partial eclipse begins (1st contact): The Moon starts becoming visible over the Sun’s disk. The Sun looks as if a bite has been taken from it.
- Total eclipse begins (2nd contact): The entire disk of the Sun is covered by the Moon. Observers in the path of the Moon’s umbra may be able to see Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect, just before totality.
- Totality and maximum eclipse: The Moon completely covers the disk of the Sun. Only the Sun’s corona is visible. This is the most dramatic stage of a total solar eclipse. At this time, the sky goes dark, temperatures can fall, and birds and animals often go quiet. The midpoint of time of totality is known as the maximum point of the eclipse. Observers in the path of the Moon’s umbra may be able to see Baily’s beads and the diamond ring effect, just after totality ends.
- Total eclipse ends (3rd contact): The Moon starts moving away, and the Sun reappears.
- Partial eclipse ends (4th contact): The Moon stops overlapping the Sun’s disk. The eclipse ends at this stage in this location.
Certain phenomena can only be seen during a total solar eclipse:
- Shadow bands: About 1 minute before totality, moving wavy lines of alternating light and dark can be seen on the ground and along walls. These shadow bands are the result of Earth’s turbulent atmosphere refracting the last rays of sunlight.
- Diamond ring: Seen about 10 to 15 seconds before and after totality, the solar corona (the outer atmosphere of the sun) becomes visible; seen together with a single jewel of light from the sun, this creates a diamond ring effect.
- The Sun’s corona: As the diamond ring fades, the Sun’s corona becomes more prominent and is visible as a faint ring of rays surrounding the silhouetted Moon. The corona is the outermost layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, and it is around 200–300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface. The corona’s temperature can reach over 1 million °C (1.8 million °F).
- Baily’s beads: About 5 seconds before totality, Baily’s beads appear. They are little bead-like blobs of light at the edge of the Moon. They are created because gaps in the mountains and valleys on the Moon’s surface allow sunlight to pass through in some places but not others.
- The Sun’s chromosphere: A lower layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, the chromosphere, gives out a reddish glow which can only be seen for a few seconds after totality sets in.
The phenomena then repeat in reverse order:
- Baily’s beads: The beads grow and merge into a crescent as the Moon continues to move away.
- Diamond ring and corona: As the diamond ring grows brighter, the corona fades.
- Shadow bands: The moving wavy lines reappear on the ground shortly before the crescent Sun becomes visible again and nature recovers.
The total solar eclipse is much more than just a sight to see. There are a lot of weird things that come along with it as well, and to be honest, these small things are just as special as the total solar eclipse itself.
Before totality when the moon is only covering part of the sun, take the time to look at nearby trees. Look in the shade of the tree’s shadow; you will see hundreds of crescent images of the partially covered sun everywhere, all over everything and covering the ground. They are strange and overwhelmingly interesting, to say the least.
Right before totality and just after, another interesting shadow forms as well, this one is thin and has wavy parallel lines that are caused by the Earth’s atmospheric winds. You see, because the Sun has been reduced to such an extent, shadows of the atmospheric detail can literally be seen. These things are amazing when you really think about what they truly are! Something that is normally unseen being seen in a moment of time when the energy is high.
Everything during this time will seem as though it is lit in a dim strange manner. In the past, many have even cried over how overwhelming this event truly is. Animals will be also be confused during this time, and it will make things all the more ‘unusual.’
Just before the Sun becomes covered completely you will notice the fantastic and stunning diamond ring effect that has been so talked about in the past. This is so exciting because as a ‘diamond ring’ it is something cherished by most, and the total solar eclipse is without a doubt quite cherishable. Some have even noted being able to see some planets near the Sun during these things, and if you look close enough, you might just be able to see them for yourself!
Immediately after the diamond ring during totality, prominences may even be seen! Prominences are giant gaseous extensions from the Sun, which appear as pink fiery features that extend out from the black disc of the moon. The amount that will be seen just depends on how active the sun is when the eclipse happens.
Most people do not talk about these things when they go over the eclipse, and a lot of people are not aware that the total solar eclipse is much more than just the sun being covered by the moon. If you pay close attention there are tons of wonderful small things that you can look for to make your experience all the more fantastic.
Never look directly at the Sun, eclipsed or otherwise, without proper protective eyewear. The Sun’s UV radiation can burn the retinas in your eyes, and cause permanent damage or even blindness. To watch a solar eclipse safely, wear protective eclipse glasses or project an image of the eclipsed Sun using a pinhole projector.