Why Does a Total Solar Eclipse Move from West to East?

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By Paul Sutter

Every day, the same routine. The sun rises in the east. Breakfast. Off to work. Work. Home from work. Dinner. The sun sets in the west. Repeat. It’s a pattern familiar to everyone on Earth. For countless generations, we’ve relied on the regular cycles of the heavens to help demarcate our days.

But a total solar eclipse, like the big one coming to the continental United States on Aug. 21, will break the routine. In addition to the moon completely covering the face of the sun — which, let’s admit, is already pretty spectacular — the event will move in an unfamiliar and possibly disquieting direction: from west to east.

The normal, daily rising and setting of celestial objects isn’t due to their own movement, but rather the rotation of Earth. As our planet spins on its axis, the heavens appear to rise up from the east, arch their way across the sky, and settle into the west.

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