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Though not rare, total solar eclipses are highly anticipated. That's because they are visible from a narrow corridor of the planet and last for just a few minutes. 2016's first and only total solar eclipse that took place on March 8 or 9 (depending on the time zone), was no exception. The celestial event could only be seen in totality by residents of the Indonesian Islands of Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and Halmahera.
Residents of southern and eastern Asia, northern and western Australia, and Hawaii had to be content with a partial eclipse. As for the rest of world? They just had to watch it on their computers and smart devices. Fortunately, many organizations including NASA were streaming it live. But no matter how the eclipse was observed everyone agreed, it was a spectacular sight.
As the moon slid between the Earth and the sun, it hid the bright star allowing fans to observe the full glory of the solar corona for a few minutes. The delicate light that streams out into space above the sun's surface is a rare treat because it is typically outshone by the bright photosphere. It is no wonder that thousands of people from all over the world flocked to Indonesia to see the amazing phenomenon live.
Fleeting as they are, total solar eclipses are important to scientists. That's because it gives them an opportunity to conduct experiments to solve mysteries like why the sun is so hot or the reason behind the unpredictable and often dangerous solar flames that emanate from its surface.
A solar eclipse occurs when a new moon gets in between the sun and the Earth. The orbit of the moon determines whether it is a total or partial eclipse. That's because the moon's orbit around the earth is not perfectly round but oval. Hence, its distance from the Earth varies between 221,500 to 252,000 miles. For a total eclipse to occur, the moon has to be at its closest orbit distance (so it appears larger than the Sun), and in perfect alignment with the Earth and sun.
Unlike a lunar eclipse, a solar eclipse has to be observed through special glasses. That's because the reflection emits intense infrared and ultraviolet radiation rays, that can cause permanent eye damage even if exposed to for a few minutes.
This is important information to keep in mind for those of you that live in the USA. That's because the next total solar eclipse that will take place on August 21st, 2017, will be visible across the country — All the way from Oregon to North Carolina!
Resources: Space.com, NASA.gov