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On Thursday (Feb. 15), the first eclipse of the sun since last summer's historic solar event will take place. However, unlike the Great American Solar Eclipse of Aug. 21, the upcoming eclipse will be only partial, with its visibility confined to far southerly latitudes.
If the Earth, moon and sun were all in the same plane, there would be eclipses every month. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth gets between the sun and moon, and a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth. As it turns out, however, the plane of the moon's orbit is slightly out of kilter with respect to the Earth's orbital plane (called the ecliptic), by an angle of just over 5 degrees.
Time - Phase - Moon - Sun - Eclipse
So, ordinarily, at the time of new phase, the moon will pass either above or below the sun, with no eclipse. In the same way, when it turns full, the moon will usually pass above or below the Earth's shadow and escape being eclipsed itself.
But twice each year, at intervals of six months, the moon is either at or near one of two points where its path intersects the Earth's orbital plane. That point of intersection is called a "node." If, at the time of full moon, the moon is within a certain distance of this point of intersection, then the sun, Earth and moon will be in a nearly straight line. And depending on just how far the moon is from the node, the moon will dip partly or completely into the Earth's shadow. Similarly, two weeks later, at the time of a new moon, if the distance of the moon from the node has not become too great in the interim, we will have an eclipse of the sun. That means the moon passes partially...
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