Types of Solar Eclipses

A purple Moon with a bright white, wispy solar atmosphere billowing out around it. It fills the red and purple background.

Solar eclipses occur when the Sun, the Moon, and Earth line up, either fully or partially. Depending on how they align, eclipses provide a unique, exciting view of either the Sun or the Moon.

A solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, casting a shadow on Earth that either fully or partially blocks the Sun’s light in some areas. This only happens occasionally, because the Moon doesn't orbit in the exact same plane as the Sun and Earth do. The time when they are aligned is known as eclipse season, which happens twice a year.

An animation shows the shadow cast by the Moon on Earth during a solar eclipse.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, casting a shadow over parts of Earth and blocking the face of the Sun for observers in those locations.
Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Except for the fleeting moments of totality during a total solar eclipse, observers should always use eclipse glasses or an alternative safe solar viewing method, such as a pinhole projector, to view the Sun. This includes when watching a partial or annular eclipse, or before or after totality for a total solar eclipse. Learn more about viewing a solar eclipse safely here.

Three side-by-side images show (from left to right) a total solar eclipse, an annular solar eclipse, and a partial solar eclipse.
From left to right, these images show a total solar eclipse, annular solar eclipse, and partial solar eclipse. A hybrid eclipse appears as either a total or an annular eclipse (the left and middle images), depending on the observer’s location.
Credit: Total eclipse (left): NASA/MSFC/Joseph Matus; annular eclipse (center): NASA/Bill Dunford; partial eclipse (right): NASA/Bill Ingalls

Total Solar Eclipse

A total solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, completely blocking the face of the Sun. People located in the center of the Moon’s shadow when it hits Earth will experience a total eclipse. The sky will darken, as if it were dawn or dusk. Weather permitting, people in the path of a total solar eclipse can see the Sun’s corona, the outer atmosphere, which is otherwise usually obscured by the bright face of the Sun. A total solar eclipse is the only type of solar eclipse where viewers can momentarily remove their eclipse glasses (which are not the same as regular sunglasses) for the brief period of time when the Moon is completely blocking the Sun. The next total solar eclipse in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024.

Annular Solar Eclipse

An annular solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, but when it is at or near its farthest point from Earth. Because the Moon is farther away from Earth, it appears smaller than the Sun and does not completely cover the Sun. As a result, the Moon appears as a dark disk on top of a larger, bright disk, creating what looks like a ring around the Moon. The next annular eclipse in the U.S. will be on Oct. 14, 2023.

Partial Solar Eclipse

A partial solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth but the Sun, Moon, and Earth are not perfectly lined up. Only a part of the Sun will appear to be covered, giving it a crescent shape. During a total or annular solar eclipse, people outside the area covered by the Moon’s inner shadow see a partial solar eclipse.

Hybrid Solar Eclipse

Because Earth's surface is curved, sometimes an eclipse can shift between annular and total as the Moon’s shadow moves across the globe. This is called a hybrid solar eclipse.

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