Why a Total Solar Eclipse Arrives from a West

Paul Sutter is an astrophysicist during The Ohio State University and a arch scientist during COSI Science Center. Sutter leads science-themed tours around a universe during AstroTouring.com


Every day, a same routine. The object rises in a east. Breakfast. Off to work. Work. Home from work. Dinner. The object sets in a west. Repeat. It’s a settlement informed to everybody on Earth. For vast generations, we’ve relied on a unchanging cycles of a heavens to assistance delimit a days.

But a sum solar eclipse, like a vast one entrance to a continental United States on Aug. 21, will mangle a routine. In further to a moon totally covering a face of a object — which, let’s admit, is already pretty spectacular — a eventuality will pierce in an unknown and presumably disturbing direction: from west to east.  [Total Solar Eclipse 2017: When, Where and How to See It (Safely)]

The normal, daily rising and environment of astronomical objects isn’t due to their possess movement, though rather a revolution of Earth. As a world spins on a axis, a heavens appear to arise adult from a east, arch their approach opposite a sky, and settle into a west.

It’s tough to censure a ancestors for assuming that Earth — that seemed really vast and clever — was unqualified of movement, with a fragile denizens of a heavens gliding along their nested clear spheres, giving humans a familiar, clockwork astronomical movements. 

After centuries of critical work, people satisfied that Earth does indeed spin, and a suit of a sun, moon and stars is usually apparent. But when it comes to solar eclipses we’re faced with a new incongruity: because does a trail of a solar obscure start in a west and finish in a east?

The answer is simple, though it’s not something we’re accustomed to meditative about: a moon itself orbits Earth from west to east. In other words, if we could rocket adult high above a North Pole, a moon would snippet out a counterclockwise circle. But Earth rotates about 30 times for a singular lunar orbit, so it’s not something we routinely notice. During a solar eclipse, a trail of a moon’s shade contingency follow a suit of a moon itself — to a east.

The solar obscure is a smashing event to knowledge astronomy during a many basic: bargain a perplexing dance of celestial objects.

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