Astronomy is the scientific study of celestial objects (such as stars, planets, comets, and galaxies) and phenomena that originate outside the Earth's atmosphere (such as the cosmic background radiation). It is concerned with the evolution, physics, chemistry, meteorology, and motion of celestial objects, as well as the formation and development of the universe.

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56721-35.jpg Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite, is a cold, rocky mass, about 3476 kilometers in diameter. It orbits the Earth every 29˝ days, with its orbit tilted at 5 degrees from the plane of the Earth. During its revolution, it passes above or below the Earth’s shadow. But its only two times in one year that the Sun, Moon and the Earth stand lined up. Due to their relative positions, a part of the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon and a lunar eclipse is caused!
Moon, as we know, has no light of its own, and illuminates itself by stealing sunlight. The period of 29.5 days between two consecutive new Moons is known as lunation. On the night of a new Moon, the illuminated side of the Moon points away from the Earth and we see ‘no Moon’ in the sky! When the Moon is full, it is directly opposite to the Sun. The night of a lunar eclipse is a Full Moon night.

What are the causes of lunar eclipses? Here is the answer… On the night of a lunar eclipse, the Earth, the Sun and the Moon are positioned in one straight line, with the Earth lying in between the Sun and the Moon. With this placement of the three celestial bodies, the Earth casts a shadow on the surface of the Moon. To put it simply, the Moon travels through some portion of the Earth’s shadow, causing a lunar eclipse.

Earth casts a shadow that can be divided into two parts. The outer and fainter one is known as the ‘penumbra’ while the inner, darker portion is called ‘umbra’. This forms the basis for the causes of lunar eclipses and their varied types.
  • Penumbral Eclipse: -During it, the Moon passes through the Earth’s penumbra causing no significant observable change in the Moon’s appearance. When the Moon lies within the penumbra of the Earth, total penumbral eclipse is said to occur. These eclipses seldom occur. When they do, the part of the Moon, which is nearest to the umbra, appears darker.
  • Partial Lunar Eclipse: -When the Moon partially enters the umbra; a partial lunar eclipse is caused. It can easily be seen with bare eyes.
  • Total Lunar Eclipse: -It is caused when the Moon travels totally into the Earth’s umbra. The time that elapses between the first and last contact between the Moon and the Earth’s shadow can be about 3.8 hours. When in the Earth’s umbra, the Moon illuminates by the colors refracted and filtered by the Earth’s atmosphere, thus appearing red, orange or yellow. This lunar illumination makes the event of a lunar eclipse worth witnessing.
In case a lunar eclipse occurs just after sunrise or just before sunset, it is likely that the eclipsed Moon and the Sun are seen at the same time. This phenomenon is termed as a ‘selenelion’. The Moon and the Sun appear on opposite points in the sky. This is known as a ‘horizontal eclipse’. This phenomenon is evident during every lunar eclipse on those parts of the Earth where it is sunrise or sunset at the time of the eclipse.

Generally, two partial lunar eclipses are seen to occur every year. Total Lunar eclipses occur less frequently. In that part of the world where it is night, a lunar eclipse can be seen. Around 35% of the lunar eclipses are penumbral and are not easily detectable. Without the Earth’s atmosphere, it would have been impossible to watch the red coloration of the Moon during a lunar eclipse. The atmosphere of the Earth causes lunar eclipses to be visible. If it were not for Earth’s atmosphere, the Moon would be entirely dark during a lunar eclipse. Apart from being an astronomical phenomenon, lunar eclipse is a spectacle!


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