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Image of a total solar eclipse
Total Eclipse of the Sun, 1881

Exploring Eclipses Through Primary Sources: Earth, Moon & Sun

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This guest post comes from Trevor Owens, Special Curator for the Library of Congress Science Literacy Initiative.

It can be tricky to understand exactly what is going on during an eclipse. However, eclipses offer a great opportunity for exploring the relationship between the Earth, moon and sun.

For centuries, astronomers have communicated their observations in drawings and models. Looking at different graphical models of eclipses from Library of Congress collections provides a useful way to understand eclipses and a way for students to work through a range of different visual representations and models of the same phenomena. They invite students to speculate on the information available to the person who created the model, to consider what those people believed caused an eclipse, and to look for patterns across models.

Detail from Soco Brusco’s “Sphaera mundi” 1482

Where are the Earth, Sun and Moon in a Solar  Eclipse?

This representation of a solar eclipse from a 1482 copy of Soco Brusco’s  Sphaera mundi  provides a great starting place to identify the relative positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun in the image. Think about what this explains about eclipses. What questions does it raise?

Is it Dark Everywhere on Earth during a Solar Eclipse?

M. Blundeuile his exercises 1613

This image from a 17th century book illustrates how an eclipse affects different parts of the Earth. What does the diagram suggest about what each of the three people on the Earth would see when they look up at the sun?

From Planisphaerii coelestis hemisphaerium meridionale

What Causes a Solar Eclipse?

This image from a 1717 atlas offers an opportunity for students to speculate on why the eclipse happens. Given that the sun gives off light, what is the representation saying about how a solar eclipse happens?

Students can:

  • Explain where the Earth, sun and moon are in each representation.
  • Consider why each of these different representations was created. What was important to each image’s creator?
  • Choose one graphical model; how might it be used as evidence to explain what happens during an eclipse?







  1. I am a teacher currently taking an online class and am researching blogs. This is an excellent blog that shows how I can use resources from The Library of Congress and utilize them in my classroom. Excellent examples of how different types of higher level thinking questions can be used.

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