Stellar Solar Eclipse Facts

  • By Ana Aceves
  • Posted 08.18.17
  • NOVA

From Babylonian kings to dangerous solar storms, discover surprising facts about solar eclipses.

Running Time: 02:32


Stellar Solar Eclipse Facts

Published August 18, 2017

On Screen: 7 Stellar Facts about Eclipses

#1 The earliest known record of a total solar eclipse is on a Babylonian clay tablet… from 1375 B.C.E.

When an eclipse occurred, Babylonian kings would step down and crown a subject as King.

Soon after the eclipse, the temporary king lost his job. And his life.

#2 The diameter of the Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun… but by amazing coincidence it’s also 400 times closer to the Earth.

So,That’s why the Moon and Sun appear the same size in the sky—and perfectly overlap during a total solar eclipse. For now…

#3 The Moon is slowly moving away from the Earth.

So, the very last total solar eclipse will be in about 1.2 billion years.

#4 But there will still be annular eclipses. These happen when the Moon blocks out some sunlight, making a bright ring around the Moon’s disk.

Today, these occur when the Moon is at the farthest point from Earth in its orbit, making it look smaller in the sky.

#5 The outer atmosphere of the Sun is only visible during a total eclipse. It’s called the corona and it’s a few million degrees hotter than the surface of the Sun…

But we scientists don’t really understand why.

#6 The sun is volatile and can spew a billion tons of plasma and magnetic fields at speeds of up to 2,000 miles per second! This is called a coronal mass ejection.

Giant coronal mass ejections release so much plasma, they can shut down entire cities and communication systems when they sweep past the Earth.

Scientists study total solar eclipses to better understand the corona… which could help them predict dangerous coronal mass ejections.

#7 The total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 is the first coast-to-coast eclipse in the continental U.S. in nearly 100 years.

But if you miss it, the next eclipse across America will be in 2024.



Digital Producer
Ana Aceves


Alex Cherney
Footage Farm
Library of Congress
Pond 5
Steinar Midtskogen
Darkside Studio



Related Links