Eclipses explained

What is a solar eclipse? The four types of solar eclipse explained

Eclipse types: know your Total from your Partial, Annular & Hybrid solar eclipses

What is a solar eclipse? What type of solar eclipse is coming next? How many types of solar eclipse are there? There are various types of solar eclipses, and it’s best to know one from the other before you make plans to travel across the globe to witness one.

Partial solar eclipse

This type of eclipse is the least impressive, but also the most common – and a part of every type of solar eclipse event. During a partial solar eclipse, the Moon appears to take a chunk out of the Sun. A ‘smiley face’ crescent Sun is an event in its own right, but at no point does the Moon block all of the Sun’s light, so it never gets completely dark. However, it can be a deeply affecting event if the Moon covers anything more than about 90% of the Sun, especially on a clear day when daylight noticeably dips, so don’t discount this type of eclipse.

How much of the Sun the Moon blocks will depend on where you are on the Earth’s surface, but at least some of a partial solar eclipse can be viewed from a track many hundreds of miles wide.

However, know that a partial solar eclipse is dangerous to observe. It’s not possible to look at the Sun with a bite taken out of it unless you’re wearing special solar safety eclipse glasses. Some light cloud can, in theory, offer a brief glasses-free glimpse of the event, but never look at a clear partial solar eclipse with the naked eye.

When is the next partial solar eclipse? See our home page for a countdown!

Total solar eclipse

This is the best type of eclipse – and nature’s greatest sight. There are two attractions of a total solar eclipse. The first is that for a few precious minutes, you can look at the Sun’s corona without safety glasses. It’s a stunning sight. The second reason is to stand under the Moon’s shadow as it causes a blackout – or, at least a deep twilight – all around you. While seeing the corona is dependent on clear skies, the darkness is intensified by cloud. However, a clear sky is hugely preferable when viewing this type of eclipse, not least because it also lets you see a long partial solar eclipse on either side of totality. So you get two types of eclipse for the price of one!

You’ll need to be on a very narrow track on the Earth’s surface (known as the path of totality) to witness a total solar eclipse in all of its glory, but it’s worth crossing continents for this type of eclipse alone.

When is the next total solar eclipse? See our home page for a countdown!

Annular solar eclipse

The third type of eclipse is, like a partial solar eclipse, always dangerous to look at with the naked eye. You will need solar safety eclipse glasses. It happens when the Moon is at apogee – its furthest point from the Earth in its slightly elliptical orbit – so the Sun appears slightly bigger in the sky than the Moon. The Moon covers most, but not all, of the Sun, creating what’s known as a ‘Ring of Fire’ eclipse. Total darkness doesn’t occur during an annular solar eclipse, and solar safety eclipse glasses must be worn.

This type of eclipse is also viewed as a partial solar eclipse either side of the brief annularity (the ‘ring of fire’). So, once again, you get two types of eclipse in one.

When is the next annular solar eclipse? See our home page for a countdown!

Hybrid solar eclipse

As you might have guessed, a hybrid solar eclipse is a bit of all three of the other types of eclipse: a partial solar eclipse, then a total or annular solar eclipse. Depending on where you stand in the eclipse track on the surface of Earth, it appears as a total solar eclipse, whereas at other points it appears as an annular solar eclipse. Each side of either totality or annularity you see another type of solar eclipse – a partial solar eclipse.

Hybrid solar eclipses are very rare and happen about once every 10 years. When is the next hybrid solar eclipse? It’s on November 14, 2031 in the Pacific Ocean.

Photo credits: Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel (left & center) & Wikipedia (far-right)