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A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Sun and the Earth and obscures the Sun. This eclipse can be either full, when the Sun is fully obscured by the Moon, or partial when only part of the Sun is obscured.
Although the Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon it is positioned 400 times further away. This means that if you view the alignment of the Sun and the Moon from the Earth they will appear similar in size and overlap each other exactly.
The Earth orbits around the sun in what is called the ecliptic plane. The Moon orbits around the Earth and must cross this plane at regular intervals. A solar eclipse occurs during a New Moon, the first phase of the moon when it orbits closest to the Sun in the sky as observed from the Earth.
The moon orbits the earth every 27.3 days but there are only between two and five solar eclipses each year. This is because the moon earth and moon do not share the same orbital plane. The moon does not travel in a perfect circular orbit around the earth and tilts in comparison to the earth by 5 degrees, meaning that moons shadow regularly misses the sun on some of these orbits.
The longest time a solar eclipse can last is 7.5 minutes. Totality occurs when the Moon completely obscures Sun so only the solar corona is showing. When a total solar eclipse occurs the sun disappears and the sky darkens for a few minutes during the day. This naturally occurring phenomenon has been interpreted as having supernatural properties or as a bad omen by our predecessors who were unaware of the scientific principles behind the event.
A total solar eclipse can happen once every 1-2 years, making them very rare events. It is not advisable to stare straight at the sun as this causes eye damage and so to observe such an event eye protection is advised. Glasses can be purchased at large events as these are promoted heavily.
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