8 Images of Solar Eclipses

Eclipse in a cloudy sky
Photo: Takeshi Kuboki [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

"The sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist has overspread the world," wrote Homer in the Odyssey. Homer was referring to a great solar eclipse that occurred on April 16, 1178 B.C., according to National Geographic. Solar eclipses have had a significant influence on humanity, traditionally seen as a sign of impending doom. The ancient Chinese, for example, thought a solar eclipse meant that a dragon was trying to eat the sun. The Incas had a similar theory that a creature was trying to destroy our star.

Today, experts are equally enthralled with solar eclipses, which provide an opportunity to gather information about the sun in relation to the Earth — and produce some amazing photos. To coincide with the "ring of fire" eclipse on May 20, we’ve gathered eight outstanding images of solar eclipses from across the globe. Pictured here is a partial solar eclipse taken on Jan. 4, 2011, from Borne, Netherlands.

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Total eclipse of the sun

NASA/ESA.

Strictly defined, a solar eclipse is what happens when the moon comes between the sun and the Earth, blocking part or all of the light from the sun. (A lunar eclipse happens when the Earth passes between the moon and the sun.) A solar eclipse can be total, partial or annular, and it can be seen only for a short period of time from a certain part of Earth. A total eclipse, which happens once every year or two, occurs when the moon entirely blocks out the sun.

Pictured here is a total eclipse that happened on Dec. 3, 2002, as seen from Australia — the first solar eclipse for that country since 1976. According to NASA, "... people in Australia received a rare 32-second celestial show as the moon completely obscured the sun, creating a ring of light. ... This image combines a photograph of the solar eclipse (showing the halo-like corona) with data taken by the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope instrument aboard SOHO (showing the green inner regions)."

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Partial solar eclipse from Italy

David Paleino/Flickr.

This is a view of a partial solar eclipse taken on Jan. 4, 2011, in Italy. It looks like this image was captured at night, but solar eclipses can occur only during the day. A partial solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks out a portion of the sun. In all, 2011 was a banner year for both solar and lunar eclipses. “2011 has a rare combination of four partial solar eclipses and two total lunar eclipses,” writes Space.com. This particular solar eclipse was visible from the Middle East, Northern Africa, and much of Europe.

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Annular solar eclipse from Indonesia

a_seph/Flickr.

When solar eclipses induce blood-red skies and crescent suns, it’s no wonder that ancient people considered them a sign of impending doom. Here is a view of an annular solar eclipse as seen from Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan. 26, 2009. An annular solar eclipse happens when the moon is at its farthest point in orbit from the Earth. On Jan. 15, 2010, the longest annular eclipse since 1992 was visible from central Africa, the Indian Ocean and eastern Asia. At 11 minutes and eight seconds, it is expected to hold that record until Dec. 23, 3043.

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Total solar eclipse via SOHO

NASA.

Pictured here is a solar eclipse as seen from space and land on March 29, 2006. A solar eclipse offers a good opportunity to study the corona, or outer atmosphere, of the sun. NASA combines the “vantage point” of the space-based Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) with the image of the corona as recorded by the Williams College Eclipse Expedition to Kastelorizo Island, Greece. It is only during a solar eclipse that people on Earth can see the corona of the sun, which is highlighted here. SOHO was launched in 1995 as part of an international collaboration to study the sun.

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Total solar eclipse from space

NASA.

Pictured here is another view of the March 29, 2006, solar eclipse. NASA describes the image this way: “The shadow of the moon falls on Earth as seen from the International Space Station, 230 miles above the planet, during a total solar eclipse at about 4:50 a.m. CST Wednesday, March 29.” The Mediterranean Sea can be viewed just outside the shadow. The image was taken by Expedition 12 crew, including Commander Bill McArthur and Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev. From Earth, this solar eclipse was visible along a narrow section from eastern Brazil through Africa to Southwest Asia.

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Solar eclipse or diamond ring?

NASA/The Exploratorium.

NASA dubbed this image a “diamond ring” eclipse — the key moment when the moon is almost completely covered by the sun. It can be dangerous to watch a solar eclipse from Earth. NASA says the solar radiation that reaches the Earth “ranges from ultraviolet (UV) radiation at wavelengths longer than 290 nm to radio waves in the meter range.” The tissues of the human eye transmit a substantial portion of that radiation to the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. Overexposure to this radiation can result in retinal burns. During a partial or annular eclipse, or even when 99 percent of the sun is covered, enough radiation is still entering the eye to cause significant damage. The sun should only be observed through special filters.

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Partial solar eclipse from India

Umesh Behari Mathur/Flickr.

Pictured here is a partial solar eclipse as seen from Jaipur, India, on March 19, 2007. This was the first solar eclipse of 2007 and it was visible from eastern Asia and parts of northern Alaska. In the end, it’s all about perspective. We now know that even though the sun is 400 times larger than the moon, the two bodies appear to be the same size from Earth. Consequently, they can align to block one another. But even with this clinical understanding, it’s not hard to understand why people, both past and present, remain so impressed, intrigued and astounded by these magnificent celestial events.