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This diagram shows the positions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth during a solar eclipse.
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Solar Eclipse on May 31, 2003
News story originally written on June 6, 2003

A solar eclipse was visible from a small area on Earth on May 31, 2003. Parts of Scotland, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland were within the central section of the Moon's shadow that produced the maximum eclipse.

A solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth, and the Moon's shadow sweeps across a narrow area of our planet. Viewers within the shadow briefly see the Sun disappear behind the Moon. This eclipse was an unusual "annular eclipse". Because the orbit of the Moon is an ellipse, not a perfect circle, the Moon is slightly further from Earth at certain times during its orbit than at other times. If the Moon is at a far point in its orbit when a solar eclipse occurs, the Moon appears a little smaller than usual, and is not large enough to entirely cover the Sun during the eclipse. During an annular eclipse, a thin ring of sunlight, called an "annulus", shines around the edges of the Moon.

If you missed this eclipse, you will have another chance later in 2003. The next solar eclipse will occur on November 23rd. It will be a total solar eclipse, lasting about two minutes. The eclipse will be visible from Antarctica, so mark that date on your calendar if you will be vacationing with penguins later this year!

This eclipse was closely related to the total lunar eclipse that happened two weeks ago, when the Sun, Earth, and Moon were also lined up. A lunar eclipse happens when Earth's shadow falls on the Moon.

Last modified June 12, 2003 by Randy Russell.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA