Difference between Solar Eclipse and Lunar Eclipse

Updated on August 26, 2016

Long ago, people believed that an eclipse was bad omen, and it meant something bad was about to happen. They wouldn’t have ever thought that it would be such an eagerly awaited event today.


Solar Eclipse
A solar eclipse scheme

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon gets in between the sun and Earth. This causes the moon to prevent light from the sun from reaching Earth. A shadow of the moon is then cast here on Earth, causing what is called a solar eclipse or an eclipse of the sun.

There are four types of solar eclipses. One is the total solar eclipse that would make the sky almost as dark as night for those who are right at the center of the moon’s shadow, or what is called the umbra. Earth, the moon and our sun must all be perfectly lined up for this spectacular event to happen, which makes a total solar eclipse a rare event. This type of solar eclipse can only last for a few minutes. A partial solar eclipse happens when all three are not perfectly aligned. Here, the sun would only appear to have a dark shadow on a small part of its surface.

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is at its farthest point from Earth. This time the sun will not be entirely blocked out, and the moon will look like a mysterious, dark disk covering a bigger, orange-colored disk. In an annular eclipse, a ring around the moon will also be very visible.

A shift from a total eclipse to an annular eclipse is possible, as a solar eclipse can appear as a total eclipse in certain areas and as an annular eclipse in others. This rare phenomenon is called a hybrid eclipse.

All solar eclipses can only be seen from a specific and relatively small area of the globe.

The dark center and innermost part of a shadow is called the umbra. The area where the umbra hits experiences a total eclipse. Areas covered in the penumbra get to experience a partial eclipse.

lunar eclipse
A lunar eclipse scheme

A lunar eclipse happens when Earth gets in the middle of the sun and the moon. Instead of the moon reflecting light from the sun, the shadow of Earth falls on it. A lunar eclipse happens only during a full moon and lasts a few hours. The event can be safely observed without having to wear any protective eyewear or observe safety precautions.

Depending on the location of the moon in its orbit, several types of lunar eclipses can occur. During a total lunar eclipse, the moon passes directly into Earth’s darkest shadow (called the umbra). Though sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth, some sunlight manages to get through our atmosphere, which in turn makes the moon appear red, hence the name blood moon. During a partial lunar eclipse, a portion of the moon is covered with Earth’s umbra.

If the moon travels through the Earth’s penumbra, causing a slight darkening of the lunar surface, you have a penumbral eclipse. If the moon travels only through the penumbra, a total penumbral eclipse occurs, which is a bit rare. Depending on the type, a lunar eclipse can go on for a few hours at the very least.

Solar Eclipse vs Lunar Eclipse

An eclipse, regardless of the type, is an awesome sight to behold, but what’s the difference between a solar eclipse and a lunar eclipse? The critical difference between these two natural events can be attributed to the time of day the eclipse occurs. A solar eclipse happens during the day no matter which of its four types is taking place. A lunar eclipse happens at night and only if there’s a full moon. This is when the moon and the sun all line up in the heavens with our planet right in the middle.

A solar eclipse can last for just a few minutes while a lunar eclipse can be observed for a few hours. Observing the sun in a solar eclipse would require the use of eye protectors. In addition, a solar eclipse can be seen in a smaller area. It is the exact opposite with a lunar eclipse. No special precautions or protective gear is needed when looking at a lunar eclipse. It can also be viewed and studied in a wider area compared to a solar eclipse.

Comparison Chart

Solar EclipseLunar Eclipse
Happens during the dayCan only occur at night
Can last for a few minutesCan go on for a few hours
The moon is between the sun and EarthEarth is in the middle of the moon and sun
Can be observed within a small areaCan be observed over a larger area


Here’s great video highlighting the differences between a solar and lunar eclipse.

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