Eclipse cycle

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Eclipses may occur repeatedly, separated by certain intervals of time: these intervals are called eclipse cycles [1]. The series of eclipses separated by a repeat of one of these intervals is called an eclipse series.


Eclipse conditions

Eclipses may occur when the Earth and the Moon are aligned with the Sun, and the shadow of one body cast by the Sun falls on the other. So at new moon (or rather Dark Moon), when the Moon is in conjunction with the Sun, the Moon may pass in front of the Sun as seen from a narrow region on the surface of the Earth and cause a solar eclipse. At full moon, when the Moon is in opposition to the Sun, the Moon may pass through the shadow of the Earth, and a lunar eclipse is visible from the night half of the Earth.

Note: Conjunction and opposition of the Moon together have a special name: syzygy (from Greek for "junction"), because of the importance of these lunar phases.

An eclipse does not happen at every new or full moon, because the plane of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth is tilted with respect to the plane of the orbit of the Earth around the Sun (the ecliptic): so as seen from the Earth, when the Moon is nearest to the Sun (new moon) or at largest distance (full moon), the three bodies usually are not exactly on the same line.

This inclination is on average about:

Compare this with the relevant apparent mean diameters:

Therefore, at most new moons the Earth passes too far north or south of the lunar shadow, and at most full moons the Moon misses the shadow of the Earth. Also, at most solar eclipses the apparent angular diameter of the Moon is insufficient to fully obscure the solar disc, unless the Moon is close to perigee. In any case, the alignment must be close to perfect to cause an eclipse.

An eclipse can only occur when the Moon is close to the plane of the orbit of the Earth, i.e. when its ecliptic latitude is small. This happens when the Moon is near one of the two nodes of its orbit on the ecliptic at the time of the syzygy. Of course, to produce an eclipse, the Sun must also be near a node at that time: the same node for a solar eclipse, or the opposite node for a lunar eclipse.


Eclipses can occur in a one- or two-month period twice a year, around the time when the Sun is near the nodes of the Moon's orbit.

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