How rare is a solar eclipse?

How rare is a solar eclipse?

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - Total solar eclipses are actually not as rare as you might think. In fact, they occur almost as often as lunar eclipses!

But here's a huge difference: where practically a whole side of the Earth gets to see a lunar eclipse, only a narrow sliver of the earth gets to see a total solar eclipse, because the moon's shadow is so small.

In fact, sometimes the moon is far enough away from the earth that when there is an eclipse, it doesn't even cover the whole face of the sun. This is called an "annular" eclipse.

In any event, mathematicians have calculated about how often any one spot on earth might experience a total solar eclipse. The answer comes out to be roughly once every four centuries! Because the movements are so complex,  some spots have seen total solar eclipses twice in a single century, whereas other locations have gone more than 1,000 years without a single one.

For most of us, though, this will be literally a "once in a lifetime" experience. That's what makes this an exciting teaching opportunity for scientists.

One of the physics professors at Southeast Missouri State University actually witnessed a total solar eclipse when she was a student, and the memory has stayed with her.

Dr. Peggy Hill said that, in particular, the relatively short period of totality, when the sun is completely blocked, will be especially memorable.

Especially the view of the wispy "corona" which is always present, but is usually invisible to the naked eye. Remember that it is only during the short totality that you can look at the eclipse without special eye protection. Even the narrow sliver of sun just before and after totality can cause permanent damage.

Download the KFVS News app: iPhone | Android

Copyright 2017 KFVS. All rights reserved.