With the next solar eclipse to cross the continental United States in just a few short weeks - NASA is setting the record straight and dispelling some common myths about these remarkable celestial events.
There is no relationship between a solar eclipse and your health. While some astrologers might tell you differently, NASA explains this is a fluke, not a fact.
“Among a random sample of people, you may find such correlations from time to time but they are outnumbered by all the other occasions during which your health was excellent,” NASA said.
NASA explains that it's “confirmation bias,” or what happens when we try to remember when events were linked in time but forget all the other instances they were not. That’s because our brain is hardwired to look for patterns in nature as a survival trait.
This bias also appears when people claim that solar eclipses are omens and that bad luck or life events will soon happen to them. Conversely, throughout history, solar eclipses were usually documented when they coincided with an important event.
But solar eclipses are relatively common and happen between two and four times a year. However, inclement weather, the orbit of the Earth or orbit of the moon can affect the visibility of the solar eclipse, meaning that these occurrences also coincide with many positive life events.
Solar eclipses can be mathematically predicted many years before they even happen. They are not a sign of an “exceptional celestial event taking place in time and space.”
Eclipses are “re-affirmations that there is a sublime clockwork regularity to the universe as Sir Isaac Newton admired over 300 years ago,” NASA reports.
Solar eclipses have been documented throughout history. However, the rays of the corona were not always described in historical texts. The first real description of the corona was May 3, 1715, by astronomer Edmund Halley who referred to the corona as a “luminous ring of pale whiteness.”
When the moon blocks the sun during a total solar eclipse, the surface of the moon can appear completely black with just the corona visible at its edges.
It is a misconception that the surface of the sun is completely dark. The dark part of the moon will have a faint glow. NASA calls this “earthshine.” It happens when the Earth reflects sunlight back onto the moon’s surface. So, while the moon appears dark during an eclipse there is a small amount of light reflected onto it from the Earth.
During a partial eclipse, it can be dangerous to look at the sun without solar glasses or a pinhole projector.
“However, if you watched the sun before totality, you will catch a glimpse of the brilliant solar surface and this can cause retinal damage, though the typical human instinctual response is to quickly look away before any severe damage has actually occurred,” according to NASA.
During a total eclipse, when the moon covers the sun completely and just the rays of the corona are visible, it is safe to view the sun.
“Being a million times fainter than the light from the sun itself, there is nothing in the coronal light that could cross 150 million kilometers of space, penetrate our dense atmosphere, and cause blindness,” NASA reports.
Solar eclipses do not produce harmful radiation that can damage food. Radiation produced by the sun does not become more harmful during a solar eclipse.
“If that were the case, the same radiations would harm the food in your pantry, or crops in the field,” NASA said.
There is a similar myth that watching a solar eclipse can affect pregnancy, this too is false.
“Deep in the solar interior where nuclear fusion takes place to light the sun, particles called neutrinos are born, and zip unimpeded out of the sun and into space. They also pass through the solid body of the moon during the eclipse and a second or so later reach Earth and pass through it, too! Every second, your body is pelted by trillions of these neutrinos no matter if the sun is above or below the horizon,” NASA explains. “The only consequence is that every few minutes a few atoms in your body are transmuted into a different isotope by absorbing a neutrino. This is an entirely harmless effect and would not harm you, or if you are pregnant, the developing fetus.”
This too is a misconception. A total eclipse happened at the North Pole not too long ago, March 20, 2015. The path of totality crossed directly over the pole and “it came to an end exactly at the Spring Equinox,” according to NASA.
The last total eclipse at the South Pole was Nov. 23, 2003.