On April 8, 2024, a wide swath of North America (including parts of Mexico, the United States, and Canada) will experience a total solar eclipse. It will be an incredible experience for people of any age, as well as educational for children.
However, it’s easy to get lost in celestial mechanics, so here’s a guide to help explain next total solar eclipse to children accurately and clearly.
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1. Explain what a solar eclipse is
His explanation of this April’s eclipse It can vary in complexity, depending on the age of the child. “In its simplest form, when the Moon comes between the Earth and the Sun, and the Moon appears to pass over the Sun as seen from Earth, then we have a solar eclipse,” says Michelle Nichols, director of public viewing at the Center. Adler Planetarium in Chicago. “If the moon partially covers the sun, we call it a partial solar eclipse. If it completely covers the sun, we call it a total solar eclipse.”
For young children, this might be a sufficient explanation. Seniors might have follow-up questions. For example, doesn’t the Moon pass between the Earth and the Sun every month? That’s what a new moon is, right?
That’s true. But orbit of the moon around the earth It is not completely aligned with our planet’s orbit around the sun. The Moon’s orbit is tilted about five degrees, says Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist and senior education director at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Normally, that tilt means that when the Moon moves between the Earth and the Sun, the three bodies are out of alignment. The moon does not block the sun, and the moon’s shadow cast by the sun lands in space instead of on the Earth’s surface. That’s a typical new moon. However, every once in a while, all the orbits align and an eclipse occurs.
The shape of the moon’s orbit also matters. It is not a perfect circle but an oval. That means the Moon is sometimes a little further from Earth and other times a little closer. When the moon is so close that it appears large enough in the sky to block all sunlight, conditions are ripe for a total solar eclipse. If the Moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun but is too far away to cause a total solar eclipse, the result is called an annular eclipse or “ring of fire,” in which the Moon blocks the center of the Sun as it moves away. a ring of visible light around it, says Faherty.
2. Tell them what to expect
TO The “path of totality” of the total solar eclipse It is the area where the moon’s darkest inner shadow, called the umbra, runs across the face of the Earth. If you are not in the umbra, you cannot see the moon completely blocking the sun. In the April event, the path of totality will be approximately 100 miles wide and will extend from Sinaloa, Mexico, through Texas, the Midwest and Northeastern United States, and northeastern Canada.
Outside the umbra there will be a partially shaded area called the penumbra. If you will be in the dark, you will be able to see the moon blocking part of the sun. To explain to children why april eclipse will have these two parts, it’s helpful to demonstrate, Nichols says: Take two flashlights of similar brightness and hold them side by side several feet from a wall. Put an object like a bottle between the lights and the wall. You will see a double shadow effect. Like the two lanterns, the sun is not a single point of light in the sky, Nichols says, but rather an extended object. “It’s not something we’re used to looking for, but once you see it, you’re like, ‘Oh, I get it,’” he says.
In the twilight, you will need special eclipse glasses to directly view the partial solar eclipse. (These are not normal sunglasses and it is not safe to look at the sun without them.) To the naked eye, little will change around you, although shadow shapes will blur as the moon covers much of the sun and changes. the light that reaches the Earth. To view the partial eclipse indirectly, make a small hole in a piece of cardboard and let sunlight shine through it and onto a piece of paper. You will see a crescent shape. You can also see the same effect when you look at the shadows cast on the ground by the leaves of trees or bushes.
In the umbra, you’ll also need eclipse glasses to see the sun before and after totality, when the moon will completely cover our star and erase its light. During the brief moments of totality, it will be temporarily safe to look at the sun with naked eyes. You’ll see the corona, which is the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere. It is so called because it looks like a faint, shiny crown, and corona means “crown” in Latin. Outside, your surroundings will appear to be “sunset in every direction,” says Faherty. Nocturnal animals, such as crickets, may start making noise. “It’s very disturbing,” she says.
3. Give them some fun facts
Children often connect with trivia. Here are some fun facts you can share about the eclipse:
- If the moon and sun did not occupy approximately the same amount of space in the sky, we would not have a total solar eclipse. Fortunately, the Moon is about 400 times smaller than the Sun and 400 times closer to Earth, so it fits the bill!
- The moon moves a little further away from the Earth every year. At the current rate, the Moon will appear too small to cause a total solar eclipse in 600 million years.
- The Moon’s shadow will travel at more than 1,500 miles per hour when it crosses Earth during April’s total solar eclipse.
- Just before totality, you may see bright spots of light at the edge of the moon’s shadow. They are called Bailey beads and are caused by the last rays of the sun shooting between the mountains on the moon’s surface.
- After the April show, the next total solar eclipse crossing the contiguous United States won’t happen until 2044, 20 years from now! In that eclipse, the path of totality will cover only parts of Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota.