Sun eclipses

Total eclipse seen from Africa, 2001

Access the image

People travel long distances to see eclipses of the Sun. They only take place at times of new Moon, when the Moon passes in front of the Sun and covers its brilliant face.

All that we can see is a black circle with a ring of light around it – the corona. The sky goes black and the stars appear. Birds and animals go quiet, thinking night has arrived.

Solar eclipses are possible because the Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun, but the Sun is 400 times further away. So the tiny Moon is in just the right place to exactly cover the giant Sun! This does not happen anywhere else in the Solar System.

There are at least two eclipses of the Sun every year, but most of them are partial – the Moon only covers part of the Sun's disk.

Access the image

Total solar eclipses can only be seen from a small part of the Earth, where the Moon's shadow falls onto the surface. Never try to look at an eclipse or the Sun without proper eye protection.

Last modified 31 January 2006

The Sun