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Full Moon vs Lunar Eclipses: What Made Them Different

As a beginner, it can be challenging to differentiate between a full moon and a lunar eclipse since they both occur when the moon appears to be fully illuminated. However, there are distinct differences between the two events that are important to understand.

When it comes to understanding the differences between the full moon and lunar eclipses, it is necessary first to have a basic understanding of the moon’s phases. The moon goes through a monthly cycle where it appears to grow and shrink in size, known as the lunar phases. A full moon occurs when the moon is opposite the sun in the sky, with Earth in between. That means that the entire illuminated side of the moon faces us, giving it a bright and round appearance. Full moons occur every 29.5 days and can be seen anywhere on Earth. However, at certain points in this cycle, the moon may appear full, while at other times, it may appear as only a partial. That is due to the moon’s position relative to the Earth and the Sun.

As we noted, during a full moon, the moon is directly opposite the sun in the sky, with the Earth in between. That causes the entire illuminated side of the moon to face the Earth, resulting in a bright and full-looking moon in the night sky. Full moons occur about once a month and are not particularly rare or unusual.

On the other hand, a lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through Earth’s shadow, causing it to darken or even turn a reddish hue. Lunar eclipses can only occur during a full moon, when the moon, Earth, and the sun are aligned straight. This alignment causes the moon to move into the Earth’s shadow, which can only happen if the moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun. Lunar eclipses can be seen from anywhere on Earth where the moon is visible during the event.

In support, a lunar eclipse is rare and involves a different set of circumstances. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow on the moon’s surface. That causes the moon to appear darker and reddish in color, earning it the nickname of a “blood moon.”

Therefore, to better understand the difference between a full moon and a lunar eclipse, imagine a game of shadow play. The moon is like a ball, and the Earth is like a person with a flashlight. When the person shines the flashlight directly on the ball, it is fully illuminated and appears as a full moon. However, if the person moves their body in front of the flashlight, blocking the light from shining directly on the ball, the ball will be partially or fully shadowed, like during a lunar eclipse.

On the other way, to differentiate between a full moon and a lunar eclipse is by observing the moon’s color. During a lunar eclipse, the moon appears reddish in color due to Earth’s atmosphere bending sunlight onto the moon. This phenomenon is known as “Rayleigh scattering” and causes the shorter, blue wavelengths of light to be scattered while the longer, red wavelengths pass through and illuminate the moon.

Moreover, it is important to note that lunar eclipses do not occur during every full moon. The moon’s orbit is slightly tilted relative to the Earth’s orbit, meaning it does not always pass through the Earth’s shadow during a full moon. Lunar eclipses are, therefore, rare and occur only a few times a year.

Also, distinguishing between a full moon and a lunar eclipse by checking the time of day. Full moons can be seen at night, typically when the sun sets and the sky is dark. Lunar eclipses, on the other hand, can occur at any time during the night and can last for several hours.

In summary, a full moon occurs when the moon is directly opposite the sun in the sky, while a lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, casting a shadow on the moon’s surface. Understanding the basic mechanics of these events and visualizing them through simple examples can help beginners better understand their differences. As result, by understanding these differences, amateurs can better appreciate and enjoy the beauty and complexity of the moon and its interactions with Earth and the Sun.

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