When you hear eclipse you probably think of the sun, but you may have heard lunar too – so what’s the difference between a solar and lunar eclipse? Quite a few things, in fact! We’ll break them down in this article, along with some fascinating facts about each.
For starters, you should know a solar and lunar eclipses are astronomical events taking place every few years. For a solar eclipse, this is generally once or twice every 2 years, and a lunar is roughly 3 times every two years. It will vary, however, based on the positioning of the Earth and Moon.
As you can imagine, both refer to astronomical events. Both deal with obscuring the other, creating a fascinating effect which has endeared scientists for years. The key differences deal with what’s obscured and the time of day.
For the solar eclipse, this occurs during daylight hours and is only visible then. The moon shifts in “front” of the sun, creating a shadow. This shadow is cast over a certain region of the earth for a limited duration, generally two to four minutes. If the sky is clear and there’s no visual interference, it will appear as though there’s a night sky. Temperature drops, the stars will be visible, and the covered region will darken. (How dark does it get during a solar eclipse? Click that link to find out!)
Enthusiasts will view this event through a variety of means, like with special solar eclipse glasses and appropriate recording lenses.
The lunar eclipse is a different event entirely with equally mesmerizing results.
In a reverse, a lunar eclipse is when the Earth blocks the sun, casting a shadow on the moon. Just like with a solar eclipse, this happens in three phases: penumbral, partial, and total. When it occurs, it creates what’s sometimes referred to as a “blood moon.” This is because the moon appears reddish in hue, almost scarlet, creating the moniker. Fortunately, there’s no real blood, but you can imagine our ancestors were quite alarmed when they saw it!
The last lunar eclipse happened in January 2019, referred to as the Super Blood Wolf Moon.
How can I watch them?
You can tell what the key differences are between the two occurrences. During a solar eclipse, the moon obscures the sun, and during a lunar eclipse, the earth obscures the sun. Interesting, right? But how does one go about seeing either of these happenings – safely?
It depends on where they take place, and as you can imagine, each are different. A solar eclipse takes place every few years, but the event is only visible in certain parts of the world each time. In fact, it’s not common for a solar eclipse to take place in the same area – only every 375 years or so. Therefore, viewing it is a truly special experience.
If you happen to be in the area where a total eclipse occurs, it’s a matter of location and viewing it safely. Never look directly at a solar eclipse event, it can cause serious – often permanent damge – to your eyes.
To view a solar eclipse safely, always do the following:
- Avoid direct observation of the eclipse – the focused light from the moving moon can cause permanent eye damage
- Wear specific shades (welder sunglasses) for the eclipse.
- Make a pinbox to safely observe the eclipse (free and can be made with basic supplies).
- Use a specialized lens, fitted with solar filter sheets, with cameras/recording devices.
Regular shades, cameras, and smartphones will not suffice.
But what about watching a lunar eclipse?
For proper timing, know that a lunar eclipse can only occur during a full moon. The good news, as long as this is occurring on the night side of earth, anyone can see it. So, it’s easier to catch than the rarer solar eclipse.
Even better, a lunar eclipse is completely safe to watch, since the earth is blocking the sun’s light for a brief period. Granted, you may want some special lenses to get a better view, but you won’t risk your eyesight looking at a blood moon.
When observing, you might wonder why the moon has a reddish hue. This, again, is because of the earth blocking sunlight. When the earth obscures the sun, the remaining light is weaker, creating the red color many see during the lunar eclipse. Fortunately, it’s only a color, and there’s nothing supernatural about it (that we know of).
Both of these occurrences will have partial and full stages, so, if you plan to see them, always plan a little time ahead to set a proper schedule.
If you get the chance to see these marvelous happenings, we’ve got a few entertaining facts about them too:
- Unlike a solar eclipse, the lunar eclipse can last for hours.
- Ancient civilizations believed the lunar eclipse was a foul omen, angry gods, or a sign of the end times.
- The solar eclipse was thought to be an angry wolf or dragon eating the sun.
- At most, a lunar eclipse can only appear three times a year.
- One of the longest solar eclipses was seven minutes long.
- Though it may look slow, the eclipse is moving very fast, around 1300mph.
- Each eclipse has three types: partial, annular, and total.
- The only place you can’t see an eclipse is from the north and south pole.
Now you know what the differences between a solar and lunar eclipse are. Both are fascinating astronomical events but take place at different times and maintain different qualities.
Remember, if you plan to see a solar eclipse, bring the appropriate equipment. You can even splurge on one of these solar telescopes. As for a lunar eclipse, watch to your heart’s content! (Looking for more information about astronomical phenomena? Check out this cool guide to orreries!)