Discover science and spectacle of solar eclipses with astronomers from the Royal Observatory Greenwich
An eclipse of the Sun occurs when the Moon comes directly between the Sun and the Earth.
During a solar eclipse, the Earth is basically in the Moon's shadow.
Because the Moon is much smaller than the Earth however, its shadow only covers a small area of the Earth's surface. Any solar eclipse therefore will only be visible from a certain region on Earth.
Learn more about eclipses with astronomers at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.
Sign up to our space newsletter for exclusive astronomy news, guides and events
The type of solar eclipse depends on the relative positions of the Sun, Earth and Moon, as well as where exactly on Earth you're watching from.
A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon completely covers the face of the Sun, and observers are within the darkest part of the Moon's shadow (its umbra). Areas covered by partial shade (its penumbra) witness a partial eclipse.
Annular solar eclipse: When the Moon is not at its closest to the Earth, its apparent diameter is less than that of the Sun. Even where the Moon's disk obscures the Sun centrally, the outer ring of the Sun's disk is still visible. This is called an annular eclipse.
A partial solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth but the Sun, Moon, and Earth are not perfectly aligned.
There are between two and five solar eclipses each year with a total eclipse taking place every 18 months or so.
Total solar eclipses are seen every 400 years from any one place on the surface of the Earth.
The last time the path of an eclipse's totality went over the UK was in 1999. This was one of the most viewed total solar eclipses due to its path falling on areas of high population density.
However, many areas of Western Europe were affected by poor visibility due to clouds. In some places, the clouds frustratingly parted after the eclipse had passed, but others were luckier with the clouds parting just in time.
Many people went to view the eclipse in Cornwall, the only place in the UK to witness totality, with the BBC broadcasting from Cornwall's western end where the eclipse would come first.
See the October 2022 partial solar eclipse with astronomers from the Royal Observatory Greenwich
Find out more
As always, with any observing event involving the Sun, it should never be looked at directly without the appropriate filters.
If you want to look at an eclipse directly and safely there are a couple of options.
How to make a pinhole projector
Our Sun runner-up | Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020
Judges' comments: One thing you often notice during an eclipse is how quiet everything becomes. Solar eclipses are calm, serene moments. This stripped-back image captures that serenity perfectly. The calm glow behind the silhouetted hills is all that is needed.
9 March 2016 | Tidore, Maluku Islands, Indonesia
Melanie says: A group of us went to Indonesia primarily to view the eclipse, but saw many other amazing things too, such as volcanoes and orangutans. We were very lucky. The wet weather cleared in the morning to reveal a hot sunny day, before cloud again came over towards the end of the eclipse. This was my first ever total solar eclipse, and so the first time I have ever taken a photo of it. I am so glad I was able to take a picture of totality and the diamond ring. What an experience it was, one I most certainly will never forget.
9 March 2016 | Luwuk, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
Yu Jun says: I took a series of photos of the 2016 total solar eclipse in Luwuk, Indonesia and stacked them to show the dramatic Baily’s Beads formation. I used shots from the second and third stages of the solar eclipse, which are when Baily’s Beads can be seen. Baily’s Beads occur as the Moon passes in front of the Sun. From Earth it seems like the sunlight seen around the edge of the Moon is broken into fragments because the uneven lunar surface obscures some of the light. This creates the illusion of a string of beads encircling the Moon. Sometimes at this stage you can also see what is called the ‘Diamond Ring Effect’ where only one bead of light is prominent.
Ancient myths from many cultures around the world have explained eclipses as a time when an animal or demon eats the Sun or Moon.
Even today, modern superstitions exist surrounding eclipses, with some believing that they could harm pregnant women. Scientists have debunked these modern superstitions; the only precaution you need to take is protecting your eyes when viewing the Sun.
For the Ancient Greeks, an eclipse was a bad omen, spelling death and destruction caused by an angry god.
The Pomo, an indigenous people from the north western United States, tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it.
When on an island northeast of Cuba, Christopher Columbus correctly foretold a total lunar eclipse, using his knowledge to play on the native people’s superstitions and persuade them to give him and his men food.
Eclipse has been a popular name for ships in the Royal Navy, with eight in total taking the HMS Eclipse title. The first of these ships was a 12-gun, 169-ton gunboat launched at Blackwall on 29 March 1797. The most recent was an E-class destroyer launched at Denny on 12 April 1934 and sunk by a mine in the Aegean Sea on 24 October 1943. This is its boat badge, held in our collection at the National Maritime Museum.
Main image: The Annular Eclipse over Lahore © Roshaan Nadeem | Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021