Skygazing Spectacular: Solar Eclipse vs. Lunar Eclipse

If you got lucky this April, you may have born witness to a rare solar eclipse that was visible across most of North America! Although cloud coverage made it difficult to see fully in some areas, even just experiencing a few minutes of total darkness, or the crescent shapes of the partial eclipse if you weren’t in the path of totality, made for a pretty awesome experience!

Solar Eclipse

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the Sun, blocking light from reaching a small geographic area. A total solar eclipse is when the sun is completely blocked from view, and a brief darkness descends over any area located within the so-called “Path of Totality.”

This year’s solar eclipse offered a unique opportunity for scientific research as well. During the Eclipse NASA flew high-altitude research planes to study the sun’s corona and search for asteroids that may orbit near the sun. Other NASA projects also studied changes to the Earth’s atmosphere during an eclipse. Citizen science projects focused on the eclipse were also deployed during this time.

Even the fact that a total eclipse is possible is a lucky coincidence that should not be taken for granted. Our sun is approximately 400x the size of the moon, as well as about 400x farther away, which allows it to be perfectly hidden when all 3 bodies align. This will not always be the case either! As the moon orbits Earth, its orbit grows wider by a few millimeters each time. Eventually, it will be too far away to totally block the sun (millions of years from now).

If you’re an eclipse chaser, you can catch the next total eclipse as it passes over Greenland, Iceland, Portugal, and northern Spain, on August 12, 2026, with the longest totality in Iceland at 2 minutes 18 seconds.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar eclipses occur when the Earth passes between the sun and moon, causing the moon to fall within the Earth’s shadow.

While a partial Lunar Eclipse causes much of the moon to descend into darkness, when a total lunar eclipse occurs the moon pops back into view, but in a more colorful, red hue. This reddened glow gives the shadowy eclipse moon its moniker: “blood moon.” This red bath of light on the moon occurs because of how light travels through the Earth’s atmosphere. While blue light scatters after hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, longer red wave lengths refract inward and pass into the shaded area where the moon sits.

There is also an even lesser known type of eclipse called the “Penumbral Eclipse” that you likely have never been aware of. This is when the moon travels through the faint outer edge of the Earth’s shadow called, you guessed it, the penumbra. During this is type of eclipse the moon slightly dims from its usual brightness. Cool?

Total lunar eclipses are much more frequent, occurring about 3 times each year. You can view a total lunar eclipse from a given location about once every 2.5 years. Some lunar eclipses can be more unique such as the “Super Flower Blood Moon” of 2022. This moon had the properties of 3 moon types that are colloquially identified: the super moon – a moon that appears larger than normal due to its orbital location very close to Earth, a flower moon – a moon occurring in the month of May, and of course a blood moon – a moon in total lunar eclipse.

Whether you’d love for the day to plunge suddenly into darkness, or you like your night sky to start flashing rave lights, there’s an eclipse for you! Pick your team and let the VS begin! The competition starts at 11:00 AM ET on 5/27 and goes for 48 hours. Bonus information is detailed in your notifications.