Madeline Wasson is a senior at Georgetown University in Washington DC studying Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Philosophy. She is the Managing Editor of Bossier Magazine on Georgetown’s campus, and has written for other publications including Grain of Salt Magazine and KCW London. Her favorite topics to cover include gender and sexuality, social justice, and media/entertainment.
Early today (June 10th) a blanket of clouds hid a solar eclipse from much of the people of London, however the phenomenon was visible to crowds across the UK with clearer skies. The eclipse, which began around 10:08 AM, hit its peak at 11:13 AM and finished up around 12:22 PM. Those who witnessed the solar event would’ve seen a ring of light in the sky as the moon partially covered the sun while their paths crossed. But what exactly is an eclipse, and why are they so significant?
An eclipse occurs when the sun, moon, and Earth all line up in a way that one solar object blocks the light from the sun casting a shadow on the other. There are two main types of eclipse: solar and lunar. A lunar eclipse happens when the Earth falls in between the sun and the moon, blocking the light which would otherwise reflect off the moon, causing what we would call “moonlight.” A total lunar eclipse is sometimes referred to as a “blood moon,” as the atmosphere bends the sun’s light in a way which causes the moon to appear a reddish hue. Solar eclipses, like the one we experienced today, occur when the moon falls between the sun and the Earth, blocking the sun’s light from reaching our planet. A solar eclipse will give the appearance of a black sun, and causes the usually bright daytime to look more like dusk, and in some places even night. Eclipses of both kinds are only visible in certain areas of Earth, depending on the positioning of all three solar objects. For example, the last total lunar eclipse occurred on May 26, 2021, but was only visible to those in the Pacficic Ocean region of the southern hemisphere, specifically in Australia and New Zealand.
As one might expect, these astronomical phenomena were very confusing to many ancient civilizations. Various groups around the world came up with their own unique explanations for what they witnessed in the sky. The ancient Greeks, for example, believed that an eclipse was a premonition from the Gods that the king was to be punished soon. In the days leading up to eclipses, the Greeks would round up prisoners in order to stand in as substitutes for the king should the Gods decide to wreak havoc upon him. In Ancient China, the belief was that a heavenly dog or dragon was eating the sun during lunar eclipses, or moon during lunar eclipses. In order to drive the divine beast away the Chinese people would bang on various objects, including drums, pots, and pans.
Eclipses are not as rare as they seem. We experience multiple solar and lunar eclipses each year on Earth, however most of these are only partial eclipses, like the one which occurred today. However, these eclipses are not visible everywhere on Earth at once, and some areas experience a higher frequency of them throughout the year. Although these events are exciting, it is important to make sure you’re viewing eclipses safely.
Not wearing proper protective eyewear and looking directly into an eclipse can cause severe damage, and even blindness. Check out when the next eclipse will be over your area, and make sure you’re prepared!