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Eclipse facts:
o A lunar eclipse lasts about 6 hours from beginning to end. The period of totality is around 1½ hours and is visible over the whole of the nocturnal hemisphere.

o The focal point of a solar eclipse covers an area no more than 170 miles in diameter, though the eclipse track may be thousands of miles long. The eclipse lasts up to 7 minutes.

o During a lunar eclipse the temperature of the Moon drops 100° per hour.

Areas affected by a solar eclipse experience a dramatic drop in electromagnetic energy. The atmosphere is turned into a negatively charged environment; there is a measurable reduction in the surface tension of moisture and the properties of protein - the basis of all life - is known to experience change.

Eclipses: Darkening of the Light by David Plant

Of all the celestial events visible from the Earth, eclipses are the most awesome. The term is derived from a Greek word meaning 'abandonment' or 'failure'. During a solar eclipse, light from the Sun is visibly diminished, sometimes to the extent that it disappears altogether. Regions of the world directly affected by the eclipse are plunged into an eerie half-light. During a lunar eclipse, a coppery-red shadow moves across the bright face of the full moon, sometimes obscuring it completely so that the Moon glows with a dim, reddish light.

Eclipses result from the astronomical relationship between Earth, Moon and Sun. Since the 16th century it has been known that the Earth is a planet of the solar system in orbit around the central Sun - but our earthbound senses are unable to perceive its motion. Seen from Earth, it is the Sun that appears to move. It travels across the sky each day from east to west and traces out a regular path amongst the background stars as it makes its annual journey through the 12 signs of the zodiac. The Sun's path is called the ecliptic because it is there that eclipses occur.

The Moon is in orbit around the Earth and is described astronomically as Earth's natural satellite. It travels through the 12 signs of the zodiac in one month, during which it completes its cycle of phases from new moon to full moon and back. The phases are a result of the varying angles from which we see the bright side of the Moon at different stages of its monthly orbit. The Moon's motion along the ecliptic is measured in degrees and minutes of celestial longitude, but its orbit does not align exactly with the ecliptic. It deviates by about 5 degrees of celestial latitude north and south each month. Every two weeks, the Moon crosses the Sun's track at the points known as the moon's nodes. If the Sun is close to one of the nodes when the Moon crosses the ecliptic, an eclipse is imminent.

A solar eclipse occurs at new moon when the Moon lines up between the Earth and the Sun at one of the nodes. The Moon is much smaller than the Sun yet from Earth it appears to be almost exactly the same size because it is so much closer. During a solar eclipse the Moon moves across the Sun, blocking its light and casting a shadow onto the Earth. At a partial solar eclipse the Sun's light is partly obscured; at a total solar eclipse it is completely blotted out. The Moon's distance from Earth varies by about 2700 miles over the course of a lunar cycle. A third type of solar eclipse occurs when the Moon aligns with the Sun at its greatest distance from Earth (apogee). It moves across the Sun as in a total eclipse but is too small to cover it entirely. A ring of sunlight remains visible at mid-eclipse. This is called an annular eclipse (Latin: annulus, 'ring').

Solar eclipse

A total solar eclipse is a rare sight. The Moon's shadow, or umbra, moves across a relatively narrow area of the Earth's surface in an eclipse track, and only those regions within the track experience a total eclipse. The last one visible from the British Isles was on 11th August 1999, when the track crossed Cornwall; the next will be on 23rd September 2090. A partial eclipse affects a wider area, but the Sun is so bright that no obvious darkening occurs until it is almost completely obscured, so a partial eclipse can easily pass unnoticed.

A lunar eclipse occurs at full moon when the Moon crosses the ecliptic in opposition to the Sun. With Sun and Moon aligned on either side of the Earth, the Moon passes through the shadow projected by the Earth into space. The shadow can be seen creeping across the lunar disc as the eclipse proceeds. In a total lunar eclipse, the Moon is completely engulfed in the Earth's main umbra and no sunlight reaches its surface. In a partial lunar eclipse, it partly enters the umbra and only part of its surface is darkened. A penumbral eclipse, sometimes called an appulse, occurs when the Moon misses the Earth's umbra but passes through its penumbra or secondary shadow. This results in a slight darkening of the Moon's disc which is far less dramatic than the reddening of a total lunar eclipse.

lunar eclipse

Astronomers will travel thousands of miles to observe a total eclipse of the Sun because each one is visible from such a small area of the Earth's surface. Lunar eclipses are easier to observe. There is no eclipse track. A lunar eclipse is visible from anywhere on Earth where the Moon is above the horizon.

The Moon's Nodes

Because of their connection with eclipses, the Moon's nodes are significant astrological points in their own right. Traditionally, the north node is called the 'Dragon's Head' (Caput Draconis). It is said to be a benefic influence of the nature of Jupiter. The south node is called the 'Dragon's Tail' (Cauda Draconis) and is malefic, of the nature of Saturn. Eclipses are often linked with dragon symbolism; in old star maps a celestial dragon was depicted curled around the pole of the ecliptic, forming the constellation Draco.

The nodes themselves travel retrograde along the ecliptic. Each month the Moon crosses the ecliptic roughly 1½° west of its previous crossing point, so the nodal line, which joins the north and south nodes, regresses about 19° every year and makes a complete retrograde revolution of the ecliptic in just under 19 years. Twice each year, the Sun moves into conjunction with one of the nodes. The period of about 40 days around the conjunction is called an eclipse season, during which any new or full moon is likely to be an eclipse.

Ecliptic Limits

For any type of solar eclipse to take place, the Moon's latitude must not exceed 1°28' N or S. When new moon occurs within 18°31' longitude of either of the nodes, a partial solar eclipse is possible if the Moon's latitude is small enough. Within 15°21' of a node, a solar eclipse of some kind must occur. A total or annular eclipse occurs when the Moon's latitude is within 58' N or S and a new moon falls within 9°55' longitude of a node.

For any type of lunar eclipse to take place the Moon's latitude must not exceed 56' N or S and a full moon must occur within 11°38' of the nodal line. For a total lunar eclipse, the Moon's latitude must not exceed 26' N or S and the full moon must fall within 3°45' of the nodal line.

David Plant is a scholar of the history and traditional practice of astrology. He is also an expert on the English Civil War period and the life and work of the 17th century astrologer William Lilly. He runs two very reputable websites: the English Merlin site, which is devoted to all aspects of the life and times of William Lilly and his contemporaries; and the British Civil Wars and Commonwealth site, which explores the turmoil of the Civil Wars and Interregnum, and the constitutional experiments of the Commonwealth and Protectorate period of the 1650s.
Both sites are leading points of reference for their fields.

© David Plant

Mundane Astrology

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