We began today by reading a surprising story about how a lunar eclipses saved Christopher Columbus. To make a long story short, Columbus and his men were shipwrecked in Jamaica and used a lunar eclipse, supposedly created by their angry Christian god, to scare the natives into supplying he and and his men with food. But that story, odd as it is, begs the question… what really causes eclipses?
A lunar eclipse is caused by the moon orbiting directly through Earth’s shadow. On the night of a full moon, the moon will slowly disappear. It looks almost as if it is being erased from the sky, only to turn a dim red color (caused by the sunlight trickling through Earth’s atmosphere) and then becoming visible again about an hour later.
A solar eclipse, on the other hand, happens during the daytime when the moon passes directly in front of the sun. Sunlight is either partially or totally blocked, and onlookers are left with a darkened sky for about 5-10 minutes. This type of eclipse is much more rare because a person must live directly underneath the moon’s small shadow in order to see it!