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Lunar and Solar Eclipses – Dates, Folklores and Facts (2020)

January 2019 lunar eclipse

A depiction of a lunar eclipse.

Times listed are Eastern. Daylight Saving Time is taken into account.

January 10 – Penumbral Eclipse of the Moon

The lower portion of the Moon tracks deep into the Earth’s outer shadow— the penumbra. This event will be visible solely from the Eastern Hemisphere: Europe, Africa, and Asia. No part of this eclipse will be visible from North America. For some minutes around the time of mid-eclipse, the lower part of the Moon will appear to be noticeably “smudged” or “soiled.” Unlike the Earth’s umbra which appears much darker and with a sharper edge, the penumbra appears more as a diffuse shading on the lunar disk.

  • Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 12:05 pm
  • Mid-Eclipse: 2:10 pm
  • Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 4:14 pm
  • Magnitude of the Eclipse: 0.921

June 5 – Penumbral Eclipse of the Moon

Once again the Moon encounters the Earth’s outer penumbral shadow. But unlike in January where more than nine-tenths of the Moon’s diameter became immersed in the penumbra, less than six-tenths of the Moon will penetrate the penumbra. Visibility will be confined to central and east Africa, Eastern Europe, western and central Asia, most of Indonesia and Australia.

  • Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 1:43 pm
  • Mid-Eclipse: 3:25 pm
  • Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 5:06 pm
  • Magnitude of the Eclipse: 0.593

June 20-21 – Annular Eclipse of the Sun

Because at this moment in time the Moon is situated at a distance of 241,000 miles from Earth, its disk will appear slightly smaller than the Sun; four-tenths of one percent smaller to be exact. As such, when the Moon passes squarely in front of the Sun, it will not totally cover it, but instead, a narrow ring of sunlight will remain visible. Hence, the term “annular” eclipse, derived from the Latin “annulus” meaning ring-shaped.

The path of annularity is widest and the ring phase lasts longest at the very beginning and end (the sunrise and sunset points) respectively, measuring about 50 miles and lasting roughly 80 seconds. The path is considerably narrower and the ring phase is much shorter at the middle of the path. The path starts in central Africa. Then it moves northeast, cutting through parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Red Sea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Gulf of Oman, Pakistan, and India. Then it turns east and finally southeast over China, Taiwan and then out into the Philippine Sea, passing just south of Guam before coming to an end at sunset over the North Pacific Ocean. 

The point of greatest eclipse will occur over Uttarakhand, a state in northern India crossed by the Himalayas. A partial eclipse of varying extent will be visible over much of Africa and Asia, as well as Indonesia. A slice of southeast Europe will catch the opening stages of the eclipse after sunrise and a small section of northernmost Australia will catch the end just prior to sunset.

  • Partial Eclipse Begins: 11:45 pm (June 20)
  • Annular Eclipse Begins: 12:48 am (June 21)
  • Greatest Eclipse: 2:41 am
  • Annular Eclipse Ends: 4:31 am
  • Partial Eclipse Ends: 5:34 am
  • Maximum Duration of Annularity: 1 min. 22.0 secs.

July 4-5 – Penumbral Eclipse of the Moon

A nonevent. Less than fourth-tenths of the Moon will slide through the southern edge of the Earth’s penumbra, not enough to create any kind of noticeable darkening on the Moon’s disk.

  • Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 12:05 pm (July 4)
  • Mid-Eclipse: 12:30 am (July 5)
  • Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 1:55 am
  • Magnitude of the Eclipse: 0.380

November 30 – Penumbral Eclipse of the Moon

Most of North America will be able to see this eclipse. With more than four-fifths of the Moon becoming immersed by the penumbral shadow, a noticeable shading effect should be evident over the Moon’s upper limb for some minutes around the time of mid-eclipse.

  • Penumbral Eclipse Begins: 2:29 am
  • Mid-Eclipse: 4:42 am
  • Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 6:55 am
  • Magnitude of the Eclipse: 0.855

December 14 – Total Eclipse of the Sun

The final eclipse of 2020 will be visible only from the lower two-thirds of South America and a narrow slice of southwestern Africa. North America will not see any part of it.

The narrow path of the total eclipse starts over the South Atlantic Ocean, then sweeps southeast through the Patagonia section of Chile and Argentina, then continues out over the South Atlantic Ocean, coming to an end at local sunset about 230 miles southwest off the coast of Namibia.

The point of greatest eclipse is 18 miles northwest of Sierra Colorada, a village and municipality in Río Negro Province in Argentina (pop. 1,300). Here the path width is 55 miles, and the total eclipse will last 2 minutes 9.6 seconds. Approximately 400 to 500 miles to the north are the big metropolitan areas of Santiago, Buenos Aires, and Montevideo. All three cities will see a fairly large amount of the Sun obscured by the Moon (about 75 to 80 percent). Unfortunately, they are all too far away to experience the panoply of amazing sights that accompany that magic word “totality.” ¡Qué lástima!

  • Partial Eclipse Begins: 8:33 am
  • Total Eclipse Begins: 9:32 am
  • Greatest Eclipse: 11:18 am
  • Total Eclipse Ends: 12:54 pm
  • Partial Eclipse Ends: 1:53 pm
  • Maximum Duration of Totality: 2 minutes 09.6 seconds

Why Aren’t There Eclipses Every Month?

If solar and lunar eclipses occur when the Sun, Moon, and Earth form a straight line, why don’t we have a solar eclipse every time the Moon is in the new phase or a lunar eclipse every time the Moon is full—both of which happen every month?

And why do solar and lunar eclipses always seem to happen so close together? If you look back through the last several years of Farmers’ Almanac astronomy calendars, you’ll notice that solar and lunar eclipses always seem to fall within a couple of weeks of one another.

It’s About the Angle of the Orbit

It turns out that the answer to both of those questions is connected to the angle of the Moon’s orbit, which is inclined about 5° from the ecliptic, another name for the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. For eclipses to happen with every full or new Moon, the Moon and Earth would have to orbit at the exact same angle.

It takes the Moon a little less than a month (29.53 days) to orbit the Earth. In that time, it crosses the ecliptic plane twice. Each of these crossings is called a node. If the Moon is new or full at the time it crosses, a perfect alignment of Sun, Moon and Earth, called a syzygy (from the Greek word for “bound together”), occurs, resulting in an eclipse.

Most of the time, though, the Moon is either too low or too high for a syzygy to occur. If the Moon lies above or below the plane of the ecliptic when new or full, an eclipse won’t happen.

A Close Pairing

This is also why solar and lunar eclipses tend to fall within about two weeks of one another. If the Moon approaches close enough to the ecliptic during a full Moon for a lunar eclipse occur, it will once again approach the ecliptic about two weeks later, when it’s new, causing a solar eclipse, and vice versa.

The periods of time during which the Sun appears, from the Earth, to be close enough to the Moon to allow for an eclipse to occur is called an eclipse season. There are two roughly 34-day-long eclipse seasons each year, falling about 25 weeks apart.

At least two, and sometimes three, eclipses occur every eclipse season. If the first eclipse in the season falls at the very beginning of that season, there will be enough time for two more eclipses.

It’s even possible, though very rare, to have three eclipses in one calendar month. The last time that happened was during the year 2000, but it won’t happen again until 2206!

Because the space between eclipse seasons is about a week shy of half a year, eclipse seasons migrate backwards through our calendar, coming slightly earlier each year.

Most years have four or five eclipses, but it’s possible to have a year with six, or even seven. For seven eclipses to be possible, a single eclipse season must fall during December and carry over into the new calendar year. The last time we saw a year with seven eclipses was 1982. If you don’t remember that, you may still be around to see the next one in 2038.

Solar Eclipse Myths and Superstitions

In our technological age, relatively rare occurrences like total solar eclipses are well understood by scientists, and thanks to the news and internet, we know eclipses are coming well in advance; information about what they are and what to expect are readily available, and so we look forward to them. But in the days when life was harder and accurate information scarcer, eclipses were often seen as a mysterious and unwelcome disruption of the natural order.

Counting on the Sun and Moon
Man has always looked to the heavens, particularly to the Sun and Moon, to mark the passage of time, and provide social stability; daily and seasonal cycles have always been very important to agriculture-based societies. So what happens when the regular, predictable pattern of day and night, and light and dark that we all depend on, is unexpectedly disrupted?

Imagine yourself as a simple farmer in ancient times, out working in the fields, and suddenly, without warning, it begins to grow eerily dark, with the Sun still high in the sky. You glance upward to see what looks like a “bite” being taken out of the Sun. Sometimes the “bite” becomes larger and larger until the Sun seems to disappear altogether, leaving only a ghostly halo. It grows so dark that you begin to see the stars twinkling in the sky as if it were night. Pretty frightening, right?

It’s understandable, then, that solar eclipses were met with anxiety and dread. And it’s no surprise that folklore, myths, and legends about our most prominent celestial neighbors abound in many cultures around the globe.

Taking A Bite Out Of The Sun?
Most cultures viewed a solar eclipse as some mythic creature devouring the daytime Sun. In ancient China, it was a celestial dragon, and in southeast Asia, they imagined it to be a giant turtle, frog, or toad.

In Korea, it was thought that fire dogs were trying to steal the Sun or Moon, and when they bit it, an eclipse resulted. For the Vikings it was a hungry wolf named Sköll (whose name means “Treachery”) that raced across the sky, hunting down and eating the Sun. Even to cultures like Greece and Rome, which had enough mathematical and observational knowledge to be able to predict eclipses, they were often viewed as bad omens, portents of evil, and astrological events to be feared.

In Hindu mythology, it was believed that the demon Rahu stole an elixir of immortality, called amrita, but was beheaded by the god Vishnu before he could fully swallow it. Consequently, the demon’s severed head, forever alive, floats around and occasionally devours the Sun. To this day, in India, people make noise by banging pots and pans and setting off fireworks during a solar eclipse to scare Rahu away and make him cough up the Sun.

In Hindu mythology, it was believed that the demon Rahu devoured the Sun.

A northwestern Native American tribe has a legend that a solar eclipse is the result of a quarrel between a great bear and the Sun, ending with the bear taking a huge bite out of it. In fact, the tribe’s name for a solar eclipse translates to Sun got bit by a bear.

Emperors, Kings, and rulers throughout history have been particularly nervous about eclipses. Their court astrologers interpreted them as bad omens that the monarch’s power was in danger. In ancient Babylon, there was the practice of hiring “stand-in” kings to sit on the throne during an eclipse, so any harm would come to them rather than the real king.

In 1133 King Henry I died shortly after a solar eclipse, and some in his court had, in fact, assumed that it was tied to the astronomical event.

Folklore
Not all of the tales associated with eclipses are negative. One surrounds Herodotus, an ancient Greek scholar, and a battle in the 6th Century B.C. between the Medes and the Lydians, which was raging until a solar eclipse began. It is said the soldiers threw down their arms and stopped fighting, believing that the gods disapproved of the war.

And in Italy, it is believed that if you plant flowers during a total eclipse, they will bloom with more vibrant colors than those planted at any other time.

Modern-Day Beliefs
To this day, superstitions persist about eclipses. Many cultures still believe that eclipses are evil omens that bring death and destruction. One of the most pervasive is that eclipses are dangerous to  young children and pregnant women. Many, even in our modern times, won’t venture outside during a solar eclipse because of the belief that they will be harmed.

In India, food prepared prior to a solar eclipse is routinely thrown out, believing that the eclipse has somehow contaminated it and made it unsafe to eat.

Fortunately, most of us know that solar eclipses are nothing to fear, and we will enjoy them for what they are — a rare and beautiful celestial event!

Lunar Eclipse Myths and Superstitions

Here’s a look at some of the stories, beliefs, myths, and superstitions about lunar eclipses from around the world:

  • Pay it forward: Tibetan Buddhists believe that the good (and bad) deeds you do during a lunar eclipse are multiplied tenfold.
  • A time to forgive: According to South African myth, the Sun and Moon fight during an eclipse. It’s up to the people to come together and encourage the celestial bodies to resolve their feud.
  • Coming changes: Many Native American tribes say lunar eclipses are a sign of a transformation to come here on Earth (based on their belief that the moon controls and regulates our planet).
  • A sign of the apocalypse: One of the most widely shared sayings here in the U.S. about total lunar eclipses comes from the Bible. According to Joel 2:31: “The Sun will turn to darkness, and the Moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”
  • Avoid eating? In India, people avoid cooking, eating, and drinking during lunar and solar eclipses. They believe food spoils faster in the absence of the Sun’s light, and may bring on indigestion.
  • Relax, moms! In several cultures, expectant mothers are advised to stay indoors when the Moon turns dark for fear it may curse their unborn child. They should also rest from housework, since using a knife or other sharp object is believed to cause birthmarks.
  • Make some noise! Incan civilizations believed that Blood Moons occurred when a mythological jaguar attacked and ate the Moon. To drive it away and stop its slaughter, the people would shake spears at it and make their dogs bark at the night sky. Today’s sky watchers still give a nod to this ritual by watching lunar eclipses with noisemakers in hand to “scare off” whatever is swallowing the Moon.

So whether you believe lunar eclipses are spooky or spectacular, you can’t deny they’re a fascinating sight to see. What’s more, you’ll be able to watch any lunar eclipse with the naked eye—no special glasses or filters are needed.

Disclosure: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

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