What is Solar eclipse

Published On: January 8, 2020 , Updated on : February 22, 2024

The word eclipse comes from ‘ekleipsis’, the ancient Greek word for being abandoned.

A solar eclipse occurs when a portion of the Earth is engulfed in a shadow cast by the Moon, which fully or partially blocks sun.This occurs when the Sun, Moon and Earth are aligned in a straight path. Such alignment coincides with a new moon, indicating the Moon is closest to the ecliptic plane.

There are 4 different types of solar eclipse depending on which part of the Moon’s shadow falls on Earth.

Partial solar eclipses occur when the Moon only partially obscures the Sun’s disk and casts a light outer shadow on Earth.

Annular solar eclipses take place when the Moon’s disk is not big enough to cover the entire disk of the Sun, and the Sun’s outer edges remain visible to form a ring of fire in the sky. Total solar eclipses happen when the Moon completely covers the Sun, which can only take place when the point of the Moon’s orbit is closest to the Earth. You can only see a total solar eclipse if you’re in the path where the Moon’s casts its darkest shadow.

Hybrid Solar Eclipses, also known as annular-total eclipses, are the rarest type. They occur when the same eclipse changes from an annular to a total solar eclipse, and/or vice versa, along the eclipse’s path.

Why does a solar eclipse occur?


The Sun’s distance from Earth is about 400 times the Moon’s distance, and the Sun’s diameter is about 400 times the Moon’s diameter. Because these ratios are approximately the same, the Sun and the Moon as seen from Earth appear to be approximately the same size.

The fact that an eclipse can occur at all is a fluke of celestial mechanics and time. Since the moon formed about 4.5 billion years ago, it has been gradually moving away from Earth by about 1.6 inches, or 4 centimetres per year. Right now the moon is at the perfect distance to appear in our sky exactly the same size as the sun, and therefore block it out.

History of solar eclipses

Sir Arthur Eddington, a British astronomer and mathematician, used the total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919 to test Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. By taking pictures of stars near the Sun during totality, Eddington was able to show that gravity can bend light. This phenomenon is called “gravitational deflection”.

A solar eclipse is also responsible for the discovery of helium. The first piece of evidence for the existence of the second lightest and the second most abundant element known to humans was discovered by the French astronomer Jules Janssen during a total solar eclipse on August 18, 1868. Because of this, it’s named after the Greek word for the Sun ‘Helios’.

Solar eclipse in the Hindu mythology


According to the believers in India, a solar eclipse or Surya Grahan is a day that witnesses Rahu and Ketu seeking revenge against the Sun god for complaining against him to Lord Vishnu.

It so happened that the Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (Demons) churned the Kshira Sagara to obtain the elixir to attain immortality. They used the Mandara mountain as the churning rod while the king of serpant, Vasuki, was used as a rope. As they continued to churn from either side, Lord Dhanavantri appeared with a pot containing the Amruta (divine nectar). The Asuras grabbed the pot and fled, but Lord Vishnu, chased them in disguise of a beautiful woman named Mohini to deceive them.

Mohini asked all the devas and Asuras to form a single file. She then went over to the Asuras and whispered to them that first she would give small amounts of Amrit to the Devas so that later on the Asuras may get a larger amount. The Asuras fell for her deception and agreed, but among them the Asura Svarbhanu, did not fall for this plan of Lord Vishnu.

When the Devas grabbed their portions of the nectar to become immortal. Svarbhanu joined the side the Devas dressing like a God. He sat between Surya and Chandra, who identified him as a non-member. They complained to Lord Vishnu agains Svarbhanu, and, the latter used his Sudarshan chakra to behead him. However, since Svarbhanu had already consumed a portion of the elixir, he remained alive but continued to exist in two parts.

Hence, it is believed that Rahu and Ketu return to seek revenge against Surya and Chandra by swallowing them and eventually releasing them back.

However, as far as astronomy is concerned, Rahu and Ketu represent the points of crossing on the paths of the Sun and the Moon.

People refrain from consuming food not just during the period of the eclipse, but a few hours before it occurs. They put strands of Kusha grass, or Darbha or Tulsi leaves in utensils containing food grains and other food items. They do this to prevent food from getting affected by the harmful rays of the Sun during the eclipse.

After the eclipse, people take a bath and consume food only after offering prayers to the Almighty. And on the day of the eclipse, temples remain shut.

Effect of solar eclipse


Animals can actually sense an Eclipse and often display erratic behaviour leading up to and during the event. One study conducted on spiders found that during a Solar Eclipse the spiders dismantled their webs and built them up again once the Eclipse had passed.With all of these subtle, yet noticeable effects in the world around us, it is very likely that a Solar Eclipse is affecting us on a much deeper level than we even realize.

It is believed that Solar Eclipses can also cause digestive disturbances and crops harvested and eaten during an Eclipse can be devoid of nutrients.

During a solar eclipse the sun, earth and moon lie on a straight plane due to which the regular harmful rays that divert away from the earth now are directed towards the earth which have very harmful effects on a person’s retina, and any wet or moist item is said to be coated with Radon which is a harmful ray that contains various radioactive particles and is the second leading cause for lung cancer after cigarette smoking.

Precautions during Solar eclipse


One should follow precautions during the time of a solar eclipse so that he doesn’t bring any harm to his spiritual, mental or physical health.

1. One should avoid eating food and drinking water during this period.

2. One should not look directly during the solar eclipse, as it can affect the eyes.

3. It is advised to discard any food cooked before the eclipse.

4.While the eclipse is taking place one should sit in one place, chant the name of God and sing devotional songs.

5.One should observe a waterless fast while the actual eclipse is in progress.

6.One should not touch anything such as clothes, food, personal items, etc. during the eclipse.

7.After the eclipse is over, one should not touch anyone and take a bath with one’s clothes on. If one has touched anything by mistake, it should be purified by washing or by sprinkling water over it.

8.One must put strands of Kusha grass, Darbha or Tulsi leaves in utensils containing food grains and other food items