Are there eclipses on other planets? (Intermediate)

To have an eclipse the planet has to have a moon. The eclipses vary in nature (total or not) and length depending on how big the satellite and the Sun appear in the sky of a particular planet.

Mercury and Venus cannot have eclipses because they have no moons.

When we have a lunar eclipse, the Moon experiences a solar eclipse. Unlike the solar eclipses on earth, those on the Moon can last for hours. Since one side of the Moon is permanently facing Earth, eclipses can be seen only on that side. Somebody living on the other side wouldn't know that Earth exists at all! This also applies to almost all the moons in the Solar System.

The moons of Mars are very small so you cannot have total eclipses on Mars, just partial ones. The view from those little moons is more interesting: they see Mars eclipsing the Sun very frequently, and during some seasons it happens every day.

All four giant planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) can experience eclipses, since they all have substantial moons and the Sun appears small from them. Eclipses are most common on Jupiter, because its moons orbit in the same plane with the Sun. There are many nice spacecraft photos that show dark shadows of the moons on Jupiter's disk. Unfortunately, since none of the giant planets have solid surfaces (all of their outer parts are composed of gas), one cannot stand on them and watch the eclipses. But their moons have solid surfaces and offer spectacular view. Moons of Jupiter experience eclipses once per each orbit, and those around Saturn can regularly see the Sun being eclipsed by Saturn's rings before and after the regular eclipse.

Pluto has large and close moon Charon that can eclipse its tiny Sun for more than an hour. Due to the large tilt of Charon's orbit and long year of Pluto, eclipses happen only for a couple of years per each century. Pluto and Charon spend several years eclipsing each other every Pluto's day (6.4 Earth days), then there are no eclipses for next 120 years. Since Pluto also turns only one side to Charon (just like all the moons do), only one side of both Pluto and Charon will ever experience eclipses.

This page was last updated June 28, 2015.

About the Author

Matija Cuk

Matija works on the orbital dynamics of the lesser moons of Jupiter and Saturn. He graduated with his PhD from Cornell in November 2004 and is now working at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

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