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Why is there a partial solar eclipse so soon after a lunar eclipse?

Physics Girl

Solar eclipse on October 23, 2014! 

There will be a partial solar eclipse visible to most of North America on Oct. 23, 2014 . The way eclipses occur necessitates that three bodies - in this case the sun, moon and earth - be lined up, not just in the same plane, but in a straight line. When a lunar eclipse happens, the moon is opposite the earth from the sun. Therefore it is at the full moon part of its cycle.

 
lunareclipse
 

When a solar eclipse happens, it is on the same side of the earth as the sun. Therefore it is in the new moon phase.

 
 

These two phases are half a moon cycle apart, therefore a solar eclipse should happen about 15 days before or after the lunar eclipse. Sure enough, the last lunar eclipse was on Oct. 8th -  15 days before Oct. 23rd!

Additionally, the solar and lunar eclipse must both happen at approximately the same time of year, when the moon's orbit will allow it to pass directly in line with earth and the sun. Other times of year, it will either be too far below or too high above the plane of earth's orbit around the sun.

If you want to see the eclipse, check out the viewing graph below for detailed viewing times and locations. For convenience, 22:30 UT is 3:30pm PDT and 5:30 EDT.

Image courtesy of NASA: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/OH/OHfigures/OH2014-Fig04.pdf

If you can never remember difference between a solar and lunar eclipse, check out my video on eclipses!