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Synopsis

The primary meaning of the word “Eclipse” (ἔϰλειψις) is a forsaking, quitting, or disappearance. Hence the covering over of something by something else, or the immersion of something in something; and these apparently crude definitions will be found on investigation to represent precisely the facts of the case.

Inasmuch as the Earth and the Moon are for our present purpose practically “solid bodies,” each must cast a shadow into space as the result of being illuminated by the Sun, regarded as a source of light. What we shall eventually have to consider is: What results arise from the existence of these shadows according to the circumstances under which they are viewed? But before reaching this point, some other preliminary considerations must be dealt with.

The various bodies which together make up the Solar system, that is to say, in particular, those bodies called the “planets”—some of them “primary,” others “secondary” (alias “Satellites” or “Moons”)—are constantly in motion. Consequently, if we imagine a line to be drawn between any two at any given time, such a line will point in a different direction at another time, and so it may occasionally happen that three of these ever-moving bodies will come into one and the same straight line. Now the consequences of this state of things were admirably well pointed out nearly half a century ago by a popular writer, who in his day greatly aided the development of science amongst the masses. “When one of the extremes of the series of three bodies which thus assume a common direction is the Sun, the intermediate body deprives the other extreme body, either wholly or partially, of the illumination which it habitually receives. When one of the extremes is the Earth, the intermediate body intercepts, wholly or partially, the other extreme body from the view of the observers situate at places on the Earth which are in the common line of direction, and the intermediate body is seen to pass over the other extreme body as it enters upon or leaves the common line of direction. The phenomena resulting from such contingencies of position and direction are variously denominated Eclipses, Transits, and Occultations, according to the relative apparent magnitudes of the interposing and obscured bodies, and according to the circumstances which attend them.”

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