May 2019 archive

Astronomy Wonder Assignment

Inquiry Question: How do eclipses affect life on earth and space in the long and short term?

To begin, we know that there are two types of eclipses: solar and lunar.

Solar eclipses occur when the Moon’s shadow sweeps across the Earth. It is when the Moon is close to or covering the Sun. There are 3 types of solar eclipses; total, partial and annular. These types of solar eclipses are only visible during the daytime. A lunar eclipse happens only when the Moon lies behind the Earth, opposite the Sun, and is fully lit. The Moon will either turn a red color or become greyer, depending on the type of lunar eclipse.

In-depth explanations of how these eclipses occur:

How Eclipses affect Life on Earth in the Short Term

Lunar eclipses have little short-term effect on life on earth as they are only visible at night-time and can go unrecognized. Lunar eclipses have no physical effect on people, but many have certain beliefs around eclipses and may take actions to fulfill their beliefs. In addition, lunar eclipses cause the pull of the Sun and the Moon to add to tidal effects when they are in-line with the Earth. Tides are especially high during this time, which can cause temporary problems for people on boats but is also an advantage for fishermen because it is easier to catch fish during this time. Lunar eclipses have no effect on animals.

Solar eclipses have no temporary effect on humans. However, a solar eclipse does have a great short-term impact on the circadian clocks of animals. Specifically, total solar eclipses. Total solar eclipses occur when the Moon fully covers the Sun for a full three minutes. During these three minutes, songbirds go quiet, farm animals lie down, crickets start chirping and bats begin hunting. Spiders are also known to dismantle their webs during the totality of the eclipse. This reaction occurs because the animals are reacting to nighttime. Animals will mistake the changes in light conditions with the change from day to nighttime and may begin doing their night/day time activities, depending on whether they are nocturnal animals or not. The masking effect comes into play during this situation. The masking effect explains that certain stimuli (i.e. the eclipse) can overrule normal behavior temporarily without affecting the internal clock and daily rhythms. Once the solar eclipse has terminated, animals will adjust and go back to their day time activities.

How Eclipses affect Life on Earth in the Long Term

Both lunar and solar eclipses have no effect on animals in the long-term. Although, solar eclipses can have a very big, permanent impact on a person’s life. It is important to never look directly at the Sun while the Sun is not in total eclipse. Looking directly at the sun can cause blindness as well as retinal burns. This exposure to such a strong light can cause damage or even destroy cells in the retina. This damage can be permanent and is painless. A few hours to a few days may pass after viewing the eclipse for you to notice that the damage has occurred. This damage can be prevented by wearing “eclipse-watching glasses”. These glasses are much darker than average sunglasses and protect the eyes well. Fortunately, animals do not tend to look at the Sun in their day-to-day life so therefore their eyes should not be at risk. Otherwise, there are no long-term effects on animals caused by solar eclipses.

Specialized Glasses for Watching Eclipses

How Eclipses affect Space in the Short Term

Solar eclipses have no effect on space in the short-term. On the other hand, total lunar eclipses produce two temporary changes in space. First, the temperature on the Moon plummets. The Moon goes from hot to cold very quickly because it is in Earth’s shadow (also known as Earth’s Umbra) and it is further away from the Sun. Normally, temperature changes on the Moon are slow and are spread out over the course of a lunar day. However, for the period of time that the Moon is in the Earth’s Umbra, the temperature on the Moon will drop. Some parts of the Moon may be hotter than others due to the Sun shining on one spot more than the other. Once the Moon is no longer in the Earth’s Umbra, the temperature on the Moon should normalize. Next, total lunar eclipses cause the Moon to turn red during the duration of the eclipse. This is a result of gas molecules in the Earth’s atmosphere bending the Sun’s light around the surface of the planet, allowing some of it to touch the Moon.

How Eclipses affect Space in the Long Term

Solar eclipses have no long-term effect on Space. Lunar eclipses do not cause permanent changes in Space either, however, as time passes, we may be no longer to see lunar eclipses in the future. This is because the Moon is slowly moving away from the Earth. It is getting about an inch to an inch and a half further away each year. It’s estimated that about in a billion years, the Moon will be too far away from Earth to completely cover the Sun.