With a total of six eclipses lined up – two solar and four lunar – 2020 is going to be quite an eventful year for astronomy enthusiasts! This post will guide you through the solar and lunar eclipses this year, why they occur the way they do, and the best places to watch them.
Click here to see the Solar Eclipses of 2021
Click this link for the Lunar Eclipses of 2021
What is a Solar Eclipse?
Solar eclipses are proof that daytime astronomical events can be as beautiful as the night ones. Solar eclipses occur when the Moon’s orbit places it right between the Earth and Sun, an alignment called syzygy (pronounced SIZ-eh-gee).
In doing so, the moon blocks out the sunlight and casts a shadow onto Earth, causing observers on our planet to see the sun obscured. It happens due to a perfect coincidence of size and distance. The moon is 400x smaller than the sun but is also 400x closer to Earth. This serendipity makes the lunar disc exactly the same size as the solar one from our perspective.
A solar eclipse begins when the moon makes its first contact, touching a limb of the sun and seeming to take a bite out of the perfect solar circle of light.
As the partial eclipse progresses, this bite will gradually grow until the Sun is only a narrow crescent in the sky.
Ten-to-fifteen minutes before totality occurs is when things begin to change. There is a noticeable drop in brightness, the shadows grow sharper on the ground, and the sunlight will look strangely different, almost like you’re wearing shades.
A few seconds before the moment of totality, the last vestiges of sunlight peep through valleys between mountains on the Moon, causing the light to break into a thin string of beads, called Baily’s beads.
When totality hits, we instantly see our first glimpse of Sun’s corona, leading to the famous “Diamond ring effect.” This is the stage where darkness happens too, making the brighter stars and planets visible.
While the entire eclipse, from first to the last contact, lasts anywhere between one to three hours, totality itself lasts only for 2-5 minutes. All too soon Baily’s beads and the diamond ring will be visible once again as the moon begins to uncover the sun and the total solar eclipse reverts to a partial solar eclipse.
Why is A Solar Eclipse Not Visible Across The Whole Planet?
The Moon’s shadow is only a few hundred miles across; which is not large enough to cover the entire Earth and is the reason solar eclipses are seen only in certain parts on the planet and rarely more than once in the same place in a lifetime.
The Sun, Moon, and Earth are in constant motion in slightly elliptical orbits. Earth rotates around its axis while the Moon orbits the Earth and their geometry changes with every eclipse, making it very rare for the same point on the surface of our planet to see consecutive solar eclipses.
In every eclipse that occurs, there are two shadows cast by the Moon. If you stand inside the path of the umbra – the innermost shadow, the Sun will be blocked entirely by the moon. If you are outside the umbra but inside the larger eclipse area, the Sun is seen partly covered by the moon, which is known as a partial solar eclipse.
Solar Eclipses 2020
There are two solar eclipses this year. The first is an annular eclipse, where the moon isn’t large enough to cover all the sun, so it looks like a wedding band in the sky. The second one, at the end of the year, is a total solar eclipse.
Annular Solar Eclipse | June 21, 2020
Eclipse Chaser’s Target: Africa, Southeast Europe, Asia.
The first solar eclipse of the year will be an annular one that lasts from 03:45 to 09:33 UT on June 21, 2020.
At the point of maximum, this eclipse will last for just 38 seconds and shall cover 99% of the sun. Even at this maximum point, the sun’s disk is still visible. As a result, neither the sun’s corona nor the diamond’s ring can be seen.
This event occurs only 6 days before Moon reaches apogee, which is its farthest point from Earth. Due to this, the Moon will appear to be smaller than usual and not large enough to cover the entire solar disc.
Instead, a ring of the sun (annulus) remains visible around the black shadow of the moon and we have an annular solar eclipse, as in the picture below. The sun’s outer corona will be visible all this while, forming the famous ‘ring of fire’.
This eclipse will be visible from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The path of annularity will touch upon the Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Saudi Arabia and Yemen will be able to witness this eclipse in the Middle East. The eclipse will also be visible to viewers in Pakistan, India, and China.
Path of Annularity of the 2020 Annular Solar Eclipse for Africa and the Middle East
Path of Annularity of the 2020 Annular Solar Eclipse for Asia
June 21, 2020 – Annular Solar Eclipse Timings
Partial Eclipse Begins: 03:45:54 UTI
Annular Eclipse Begins: 04:47:38 UTI
Maximum Eclipse: 06:39:59 UTI
Annular Eclipse Ends: 08:32:16 UTI
Partial Eclipse Ends: 09:33:57 UTI
Total Solar Eclipse | December 14, 2020
Eclipse Chaser’s Target: Eastern Pacific, South Atlantic, South America.
2020’s only solar eclipse will start at South Pacific Ocean at 14:33 UT, glide towards South America at 16:10 UT, touches Chile in the next four minutes and crosses over Argentina before entering the South Atlantic.
Totality – the time when the Moon covers the full disk of the Sun – will last up to 2 minutes 10 seconds. While it is not as extensive as 2017’s coast-to-coast total solar eclipse, this year’s totality will be visible over Chile – mainly in the Villarica and Pucon regions, and Argentina.
Path of Annularity of the 2020 Total Solar Eclipse for South America
December 14, 2020 – Total Solar Eclipse Timings
Partial Eclipse Begins: 13:33:55 UTI
Full Eclipse Begins: 14:32:34 UTI
Maximum Begins: 16:13:28 UTI
Full Eclipse Ends: 17:54:18 UTI
Partial Eclipse Ends: 18:53:03 UTI
What Is A Lunar Eclipse?
Another outcome of syzygy is when the moon inserts itself into Earth’s shadow, i.e. the Earth falls directly between the moon and the sun. Since our planet blocks sunlight from landing on the moon, the only light from the moon will be sunlight that passes through Earth’s atmosphere, lands on the moon and reflects back towards Earth.
This circumstance creates a lunar eclipse, and these are more common than solar eclipses. They are also visible from a much larger part of the globe than for a solar eclipse, because Earth creates the shadow and it is much bigger than the moon.
Lunar Eclipses 2020
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse | January 10, 2020
Eclipse Chaser’s Target: Europe, East Africa, Asia, West Australia
This eclipse occurs two weeks after the annular solar eclipse on December 26th, 2019. By this time, the moon will have moved to the opposite side in its orbit.
Since it only just misses entering the umbra, the southern half of the lunar disk during this eclipse will look noticeably dusky. This daylight event lasts from 17:07 UT to 21:12 UT and is not visible in North and South America.
January 10, 2020 – Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Timings
Penumbral Phase Begins: 17:07:45 UT
Maximum Eclipse: 19:09:59 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 21:12:19 UT
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse | June 05, 2020
Eclipse Chaser’s Target: Africa, Asia, and Australia
Nearly half a year later, the moon once again slips halfway into Earth’s shadow, though not as deep as the umbra. The eclipse will be less marked than January’s and only spotted by those dedicated to looking for it.
June 05, 2020 – Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Timings
Penumbral Phase Begins: 17:45:51 UT
Maximum Eclipse: 19:24:55 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 21:04:03 UT
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse | July 05, 2020
Eclipse Chaser’s Target: North and South America, Western Europe, Africa
As in June, this is a less impressive eclipse but visible from the US.
July 05, 2020 – Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Timings
Penumbral Phase Begins: 03:07:23 UT
Maximum Eclipse: 04:29:51 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 05:52:21 UT
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse | November 30, 2020
Eclipse Chaser’s Target: North and South America, East Asia, Australia
This final lunar eclipse of the year is also of the dimmer penumbral variety and is, once more, visible from the US.
November 30, 2020 – Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Timings
Penumbral Phase Begins: 07:32:21 UT
Maximum Eclipse: 09:42:49 UT
Penumbral Eclipse Ends: 11:53:20 UT
While this post is meant to equip you with knowledge of when the eclipses occur, you cannot completely prepare for the splendor of these cosmic coincidences.
Eclipses give you a chance to watch the solar system at work right in front of your eyes; of the Moon around Earth and Earth around the sun.
Irrespective of how many times you have seen it, the awe when an eclipse begins, the regret when it ends all too soon, and the ecstasy of witnessing it all cannot be jammed into strings of words. You can only experience it and store the bittersweet memory till the next one comes rolling in.
Written by Sharmila Kuthunur