Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
Introductioneclipse (ēklĭpsˈ, ĭ–) [key] [Gr., = failing], in astronomy, partial or total obscuring of one celestial body by the shadow of another. Best known are the lunar eclipses, which occur when the earth blocks the sun's light from the moon, and solar eclipses, occurring when the moon blocks the sun's light from a small portion of the earth. Occasionally a double or binary star system is aligned so that one star eclipses the other as seen from the earth; these stars are known as eclipsing binaries. Also important to science have been the eclipses of Jupiter's satellites; in 1675 the Danish astronomer Ole Roemer used these eclipses to calculate the speed of light. Observations of starlight passing near the sun during the 1919 solar eclipse were of particular value in validating Einstein's general theory of relativity.
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.