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Last Post 21 May 2015 08:49 AM by  Pat Reiff
solar eclipses
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19 May 2015 05:03 AM

    Wendy G

    why are solar eclipses less often seen than lunar eclipses?

    Tags: eclipse

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    19 May 2015 11:06 AM

    Hi -- great question! It all has to do with geometry. In a nutshelll, when the Earth blocks the Sun and the Moon passes through the shadow (a Lunar Eclipse), the moon is close enough that there's a fairly large area for the moon to pass through and end up getting eclipsed by. Additionally, it is generally visible from a large part of the Earth. When the Moon blocks the Sun (Solar eclipse), there's only a tiny bit of shadow, so only a small path on the Earth gets to go through it.

    I found a great image to illustrate, courtesy Rice University - hmm, I can't seem to cut & paste it in here, but see

    about a third of the way down.


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    20 May 2015 07:02 AM

    The number of lunar vs. solar eclipses is about the same, but the size of the shadow cast by the Moon during a solar eclipse (new Moon is between Earth and Sun), is small, so only a small part of Earth can see the eclipse. Also, since most of Earth is covered by water, the probability is rather high that the shadow will fall on water and not land where there are more people.

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    21 May 2015 08:49 AM
    Here's a link to the diagram. Feel free to grab and use! It shows nicely that everyone on the dark side of the Earth can see a total lunar eclipse (more than half the earth, since the eclipse takes a while). On the other hand, only the few people in the tiny path of the umbra can see the total solar eclipse.
    Patricia Reiff Director, Rice Space Institute Professor, Physics & Astronomy Dept
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