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A Solar Eclipse

A solar eclipse is arguably one of the most thrilling sights on Earth. It occurs when the moon moves in front of the Sun. A solar eclipse happens slowly as the Moon starts its trip across the Sun. It begins like it is taking a small bite out of the Sun. As the Moon gets closer to the center of the Sun the darkness occurs more quickly. While a small crescent of the sun stays in the sky you can observe a unusual phenomenon with a solar eclipse - thin wavy lines appear that are light and dark that can be seen on light colored surfaces. These are called shadow bands and are caused by the distortion of Earth's atmosphere.

The Last String of Light Before Darkness

When the Moon has nearly blocked out the sun at the last few minutes before the total solar eclipse, you will see some points of light surrounding the edges of the dark Moon. These look like a string of beads wrapped around the edges and are appropriately called Baily's Beads. They are named after the astronomer Francis Baily who first noticed them in the 18th century. These beads only appear for a few brief minutes before the total solar eclipse occurs.

Beautiful Darkness Descends

When the Moon finally obscures the Sun completely, darkness occurs on Earth during the day. It is not quite like the darkness of night but more of a surreal, almost soft darkness. The sky near the horizon still appears bright and this produces a reddish glow and some very unusual shadows. When the total solar eclipse finally arrives, it gives an unearthly appearance. There is a pinkish glow, which comes from the edges of the moon before the total eclipse and sometimes a red cloud appearance arch above it. The pink glow is called Chromosphere and the red cloud is called solar prominence.

More to See Than the Eclipse

Of course, the solar eclipse is the ultimate reason that you look at the sky. However, there are smaller shows that are taking place at the same time. When the Sun is completely blocked, some of the brighter stars and planets become more visible. Sometimes you can see a small comet as it travels its path near the sun. Become aware of your surroundings here on Earth: birds don't chirp, bees stop flying and there is a stillness of the Earth that is strangely quiet. The temperature drops without the heat of the sun during a solar eclipse.

Note: To observe a solar eclipse safely, you need to wear protective eyewear because you should never look directly at the sun. It could result in damage to your eyes.