A rhyming guide to eclipse science

Have you ever seen a solar eclipse? A new book for readers of all ages explains the science behind rare and wonderful events.

Solar eclipses occur somewhere on Earth almost every year, but it’s rare to see one where you live. So when tens of millions went out to watch his 2017 total solar eclipse, for the first time in almost 40 years in the United States, they had a special experience. An annular solar eclipse in October 2023 and a total solar eclipse in April 2024.

Appearing in sufficient time to help children, adults and school districts learn about and predict solar eclipses Totality!: A Guide to Solar Eclipses in Rhyme and ScienceWritten by an astrophysicist, this book explains eclipse science in an engaging way with rhymes, sidebars and graphics. The book includes a glossary and activities, and a free app to map the eclipse is also available. total! was named “Story Time in Space” from the International Space Station, but readers of all ages can also find it on Earth and the Internet.

This map shows the path of two solar eclipses over the United States: the annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023 and the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Changes in the Moon’s distance from Earth affect solar eclipses. A total solar eclipse is seen when the moon is relatively close to the earth. An annular solar eclipse is seen when the moon is relatively far away. In both cases, a partial solar eclipse will occur in an area touched by a partial shadow of the Moon.

The shadow is round and not very wide. Along the narrow path it slides rapidly.

The round shadow of the Moon over the eastern United States during the 2017 total solar eclipse. Visible shadows include all of the Moon’s full shadows and the darker parts of partial shadows.

Since the moon is round, both its total and partial shadows are round. The size of the shadow during a particular eclipse depends on the Moon’s distance from Earth at that time. Full shadows cover no more than about 270 kilometers (167 miles) across, and are usually much smaller (sometimes even short of the Earth). The partial shadow is much larger (more than 6,000 kilometers in diameter), which is why a large area around the entire road can be seen in the partial eclipse.

The shadow doesn’t stay in one place because the Earth is spinning underneath it and the moon is moving in its orbit. Together, these movements cause shadows to race across the Earth’s surface at typical speeds near 1,600 kilometers per hour (1,000 miles per hour). So totality never lasts more than a few minutes anywhere.

This excerpt from Totality!: A Guide to Solar Eclipses in Rhyme and Science (2022) by Jeffrey Bennet is published with permission of Big Kid Science, a publisher that dedicates 100% of its profits to nonprofits, free curriculum, and educational outreach.


Dr. Jeffrey Bennett

A Colorado-based educator with a longstanding expertise in mathematics and science education. “Total!” is his seventh children’s book, and an addition to his six previous children’s books, in which an astronaut aboard the International Space Station tells the children of Earth A video is posted on storytimefromspace.com as part of the Story Time From Space program that reads the book aloud. .

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