What exactly is a solar eclipse?

In August 2017, the northern part of America witnessed an extremely rare and exciting event – a total solar eclipse. For a few moments, 14 states were left in complete darkness, as the sun was entirely hidden behind the moon. Since it was only possible to see it from these states, the eclipse received the respectful name “the Great American Eclipse.” The last time this happened was a whopping 38 years before.

You don’t have to be a science geek or an astronomer to understand how special an event like that is. In fact, it is so out of the ordinary, that in ancient times, many beliefs and superstitions were linked with it. Since solar eclipses have been taking place since the beginning of time, but the science to understand them only arrived years later, many cultures had to develop their own stories and theories to explain this mystery.

For instance, in the Babylonian empire, solar eclipses were considered a sign of an upcoming death of the king. In Asia, a lot of people believed that a giant frog or a dragon was responsible for sinking their teeth into the sun’s surface. Another example for this is the ancient Greeks, who believed that eclipses happened as a result of upsetting the gods. That meant it was the beginning of a dark period of disasters.

What’s behind it?

But what is a solar eclipse exactly? And how does it happen? A solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks the light coming from the sun as it passes between the sun and the Earth. The whole eclipse can take up to three hours from the moment it starts and until it is no longer visible. During this specific eclipse, the sun will be completely blocked by the moon for the longest period of two minutes and 40 seconds, from any given point on the eclipse’ path. The eclipse will travel from the west to the east, on a path that is scientifically called “The Path of Totality,” since it includes the spot from which the vision will be seen as a total eclipse.


During this eclipse, the path of totality stretched from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Outside the path, observers in the United States and some other neighboring areas were able to witness a partial eclipse. In a partial solar eclipse, the Moon is covering only a small piece of the sun’s surface. This kind of eclipse is less rare, and happens between two to five times a year.

In case you missed this last solar eclipse, we have bad news for you. You are going to have to wait 7 more years, (at least not 38!) before you’ll have another chance of witnessing another total eclipse. According to a study by NASA, the exact date for the next total eclipse will be April 8, 2024, and the eclipse will travel diagonally across North America and the United States, starting from Mexico, then moving north to Texas and up until it reaches the eastern part of Canada. So don’t forget to write it down on your schedule!