Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
Occasionally, lunar and solar eclipses are visible from our area. When possible, Cline Observatory will open for viewing these events. This page outlines upcoming eclipses and how to view them.
If a total eclipse of the Moon is visible from the Triad, Cline Observatory will consider holding a public session to view the eclipse. Whether we schedule/hold the session will depend on the specific timing and circumstances of the eclipse, and of course, the weather. Lunar eclipses are easily observed from any location where the Moon is visible, so a visit to an observatory or access to a telescope is not necessary. Just step outside and look up!
There is often significant hype surrounding lunar eclipses, with various persons assigning particular significance to the predicted blood-red appearance of the Moon during the eclipse, but there’s nothing special about particular eclipses or their appearance. The Moon usually takes on a reddish hue during mid-eclipse due to effects of Earth’s atmosphere.
How Lunar Eclipses Occur
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes completely into the shadow of the Earth, darkening the lunar surface. (We normally see the Moon by the sunlight it reflects.) Such events only occur during the full Moon phase, when the Moon is opposite the Sun in the sky. During most months, the full Moon passes just above or below Earth’s shadow, and an eclipse does not occur. But when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned in the same plane in space, the full Moon passes into our shadow and we see a lunar eclipse. These precise alignments bring us the possibility of lunar eclipses roughly every six months. For a partial lunar eclipse, the Moon does not completely pass into the darkest part of Earth’s shadow (the umbra), and so only part of the Moon appears significantly darkened. All total lunar eclipses have partial phases before and after totality. Occasionally, the Moon passes just outside the umbra, and a slight fading of part of the Moon occurs. This is a penumbral lunar eclipse, in which Earth is blocking some of the sunlight from reaching the Moon, but no part of the lunar surface sees the sunlight totally blocked.
Our Next Good Eclipse of the Moon: the Night of 20/21 January 2019 - Total Lunar Eclipse
From NC, the total lunar eclipse of 20/21 January 2019 will begin in the late evening hours and still be in progress as the Moon sets at dawn. Diagrams showing the regions of visibility and the Moon’s path through Earth’s shadow can be found at this NASA Eclipse Resource.
By 10:00 p.m. (all times noted are EST) it will be apparent that something is happening to the Moon. The bright full Moon will show a slight darkening at its eastern edge. (We see the Moon move gradually west to east as it shifts along its orbit. That’s why it rises later on successive nights.)
Partial eclipse begins at 10:34, as the deep shadow starts to eat away at the orb of the Moon. Over the next hour or so, the Moon will slowly slip into darkness, revealing constellations that were washed out by the bright moonlight earlier in the evening. The Moon will be located in the constellation Cancer on the night of the eclipse.
As totality approaches (it begins at 11:41), it will become apparent that the Moon is not fading to complete invisibility – the darkened Moon will likely shine with a reddish color. The intensity of this light varies from eclipse to eclipse, and it is due to the combined glow of all the sunsets and sunrises around the Earth filtering through our atmosphere to reach the Moon. Each eclipse is slightly different, depending on the path of the Moon through our shadow and the condition of our atmosphere. (More particles in the upper atmosphere, due for example, to volcanic eruptions, will block more light from passing.) So pay attention to the Moon’s color during the eclipse. Is it actually blood-red? Or is it brick-red, basketball-orange, or dull gray? Since the Moon is not passing through the central part of Earth’s shadow, the northern part of the moon, which will pass farthest from the center of the shadow, will probably look lighter in shade.
Mid-eclipse occurs at 12:13 p.m., and totality ends at 12:43 p.m. After this, the Moon will slowly work its way out of the shadow, and the night will brighten again. The post-totality partial phase ends at 1:50 a.m.
During this eclipse the Moon will appear darker at the top and lighter at the bottom, since it will pass through the bottom half of Earth’s shadow,
Be sure you are looking on the right night! Many sources will list the eclipse as occurring on 21 January, but we will see it beginning on late on the 20th and continuing after midnight on the morning of the 21st. Astronomical timing information is usually circulated using Universal Time (UT), which is essentially the same as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Observers in Europe will see the eclipse begin after midnight on the 21st, but since we are significantly west of them, we will see the event start during the late evening hours of the 2oth.
How to View a Lunar Eclipse (No Telescopes Needed - Such an Eclipse Can Be Viewed at Home)
Weather permitting, Cline Observatory will be open for public viewing the night of the eclipse. General details will be posted here as the event approaches. In the days before the eclipse, updates will be posted at the observatory’s Twitter page, @gtccastro.
But a trip to an observatory is not necessary to enjoy an eclipse. Lunar eclipses can be viewed from any location where the Moon can be seen – optical aid is not required. If you can see the Moon, then you can observe the eclipse, no matter what your location. Telescopes or binoculars will enhance the view, but are not necessary.
Lunar Eclipses Visible in the NC Triad: 2015 – 2025
|Date||Type (as seen locally)||Local time of mid-eclipse||Notes|
|2015 Sep 27||Total||10:48 p.m. EDT||Entire eclipse visible – evening event for NC (9 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.)||Global Map and Info|
|2018 Jan 31||Total||In daylight||Early morning eclipse for NC. In progress at moonset/sunrise.||Global Map and Info|
|2019 Jan 21||Total||12:12 a.m. EST||Partial phase starts at 10:33 p.m. on 20 Jan, and ends at 1:50 a.m. on the 21st.||Global Map and Info|
|2021 May 26||Total||In daylight||Early morning eclipse for NC. In progress at moonset/sunrise.||Global Map and Info|
|2021 Nov 19||Partial||4:02 a.m. EST||Nearly total. Late overnight event (2-6 a.m.)||Global Map and Info|
|2022 May 16||Total||12:11 a.m. EDT||Partial phase starts at 10:27 p.m. on 15 May, and ends at 1:55 a.m. on the 16th.||Global Map and Info|
|2022 Nov 08||Total||5:59 a.m. EST||Early morning event – begins around 4 a.m. and ends at sunrise.||Global Map and Info|
|2024 Sep 17||Partial||10:44 p.m. EDT||Shallow partial eclipse between 10:12-11:15 p.m.||Global Map and Info|
|2025 Mar 14||Total||2:58 a.m. EDT||Late overnight event (1-5 a.m.)||Global Map and Info|
If an eclipse of the Sun is visible from the Triad, Cline Observatory will consider holding a public session to view the eclipse. Whether we schedule/hold the session will depend on the specific timing and circumstances of the eclipse, and of course, the weather. Viewing solar eclipses directly can harm your vision if done improperly, so our sessions can provide a safe and informative way to experience the event.
How Solar Eclipses Occur
As with lunar eclipses, for solar eclipses to occur, the Sun, Moon, and Earth must be directly in line and on the same plane in space. For all variations of solar eclipses, the Moon must be in the new phase, with the arrangement of the bodies being Sun-Moon-Earth. A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon appears to completely cover the Sun. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon appears too small to completely cover the Sun, and thus the Sun is not completely blocked, with an exposed ring of bright sunlight around the dark Moon. (This can happen because the Moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular, so sometimes it is a bit closer to, or farther from, Earth than normal.) For a partial solar eclipse, the Moon is not situated directly between the Sun and the observer, and thus blocks only part of the Sun.
Solar Eclipses Visible in the NC Triad: 2015 – 2030
A total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon appears to completely cover the Sun. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon appears too small to completely cover the Sun, and thus the Sun is not completely blocked, with an exposed ring of bright sunlight around the dark Moon. For a partial solar eclipse, the Moon is not situated directly between the Sun and the observer, and thus blocks only part of the sun. For all of these types of eclipse, the Moon must be in the new phase, with the arrangement of the bodies being Sun-Moon-Earth. Solar eclipses usually happen roughly six months apart, and because of their timing, can only be seen from certain parts of Earth. Upcoming solar eclipses visible from our area are listed in the table below
|Date||Type (as seen locally)||Local Time||Notes|
|2017 Aug 21||Partial||1:13-4:04 p.m.||Total along a path stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, including the SW NC mountains.||Shadow animation||Interactive Google Map|
|2021 Jun 10||Partial||6:02-6:26 a.m.||Annular in northern Russia, Canada, and Greenland. Only visible in NC briefly after sunrise.||Shadow animation||Interactive Google Map|
|2023 Oct 14||Partial||11:55 a.m. – 2:43 p.m.||Annular along a path from Oregon to Texas, and across Central America, Colombia, and Brazil.||Shadow animation||Interactive Google Map|
|2024 Apr 08||Partial||1:58-4:28 p.m.||Total along a path stretching from Texas to Maine, including parts of Mexico and Canada.||Shadow animation||Interactive Google Map|
|2028 Jan 26||Partial||8:49- 10:30 a.m.||Annular across northern South America.||Shadow animation||Interactive Google Map|
|2029 Jan 14||Partial||11:09 a.m. – 2:01 p.m.||Partial only – visible across most of North and Central America.||Shadow animation||Global Map and Info|
Note: the 2026 August 12 partial solar eclipse is not visible in the Triad, but parts on NC to our northeast and east will see it.
For more information on solar eclipses occurring this period, see the NASA Catalog of Solar Eclipses: 2001 to 2100.
Our Next Good Eclipse of the Sun: 2017 August 21
The 2017 August 21 eclipse will not be total from the Triad, but parts of western NC and much of SC will experience a total eclipse. At the time of maximum eclipse (around 2:42 p.m. EDT), the Sun will appear 94% covered by the Moon as seen from Jamestown. See the NASA 2017 Eclipse resource page for detailed maps and circumstances for this eclipse.
More information about this eclipse will be posted as the date approaches.
Viewing the Sun Safely
It is dangerous to your eyesight to stare at the sun, so here are a few tips if you want to try to observe a solar eclipse:
- Make a pinhole projector – use a pin to poke a hole in a piece of cardboard, orient that hole toward the sun, and use a second white card or piece of paper onto which you can project an image of the sun. See this visual representation of how the method works.
- Watch the full eclipse online – there are usually a few sites that livestream eclipses.
- Safe solar viewers are available from a number of sources – just do a web search with the terms, eclipse shades, eclipse glasses, or solar viewers. Occasionally Cline Observatory makes these shades available through the GTCC bookstore in advance of significant eclipses.
- A shade 14 welder’s lens is safe for viewing the Sun, but regular shades (e.g. 10) are still too bright, though they may be acceptable for quick looks if the Sun is low on the horizon.
- Don’t try to improvise on your own filter – see this resource for information on how to construct a safe solar viewer.
- Never try to look directly at the sun through unfiltered (or inappropriately filtered) binoculars, telescopes, or telephoto lenses.