Get ready for the “Ring of Fire” annular solar eclipse on Saturday, October 14. It’s the first of two great American solar eclipses that will sweep across the United States and Canada. Bob Berman has information on how to see the ring of fire, proper eye protection, and what to realistically expect.
You’ve probably seen the news flashes: Two major eclipses will happen in the next seven months. Each will be seen from widespread parts of North America. Both have intriguing names: “Final Total Solar Eclipse” (the last one for almost a quarter century). And “Ring of Fire Eclipse.”
Regarding the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024: The experience tops the list of Nature’s most incredible spectacles. So, that’s the first task: to place oneself within that 100-mile-wide path of totality that crosses northward out of Mexico to traverse Texas and other states before curving eastward to pass over Northern Maine, even skimming parts of several Canadian provinces. Find out the best places to see the total solar eclipse.
But today, let’s turn to the October 14 “Ring of Fire” eclipse. This eclipse will also be visible to millions of people, crossing all of North America (see map below). It’s got the advantage of hype with that wonderful, evocative nickname that matches the iconic Johnny Cash breakout hit. It, too, has a path that crosses much of the U.S. But is it all hype or worth seeing?
It’s called an “annular” eclipse because “annulus” means “ring.” (Note: It is NOT “annular” as in yearly.)
During this type of eclipse, it will appear as if the Sun forms a ring around the Moon mid-eclipse. This happens because the disk of the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth at the farthest point from our planet.
The Moon is too far away and too small to fully obscure the Sun. Instead, the outer circumference of the Sun will remain blindingly shining all around the black New Moon, resembling a ”ring of fire.”
But our real question remains: Will this constitute a true spectacle? Is it up there with that other stuff, like solar totality or a major aurora?
Truth be told, this is a partial eclipse no matter where you go. No totality ever happens. No prominences, no corona, no animals going crazy, no darkness at noon.
However, it can come close if—a big if—this kind of eclipse occurs very near sunrise or sunset. That’s what happened 31 years ago in southern California. If the burning “ring of fire” is on or near the horizon, people can view it directly, just as we’ve all safely gazed at red sunsets. Then you’d see it surrounded by trees and the ocean or natural objects, making it look fantastic.
To see the ring of fire, you must be located along the path of annularity. On the map below, see the path that begins in Oregon at 9:13 a.m. PDT and ends in Texas at 12:03 p.m. CDT. Only the locations along the path will see the Moon (almost) cover the Sun.
You can also watch the eclipse LIVE on October 14, 2023, on the NASA webcast from 10:30 A.M.CDT to 12:15 P.M. CDT. It will include conversations with scientists and telescope views from across the country.
What to Watch During the Annular Eclipse
For an annular eclipse, you will first see the Moon start to move across the Sun’s face. Note how the Sun looks like a crescent in the photo below. Yes, it’s similar to a Moon crescent, but it’s the Sun!
Then, it’s time for the period known as annularity. About an hour and 20 minutes after the partial eclipse phase begins, the Moon will almost fully obscure the Sun. As I mentioned, it’s not a perfect fit so there will be a “ring of fire” surrounding the Sun. The sky will not darken like a total solar eclipse but it will dim. You may feel the temperature drop.
Look at your surroundings when the annular eclipse reaches its maximum extent. Illuminated only by light from the Sun’s limb or edge, familiar earthly objects like sidewalks and cars take on a strange, yellowish, highly contrasty appearance that should not be missed. Thus, amazingly, the best part of a deep partial eclipse is not observing the Sun itself, but everything else around you!
Get Your Eclipse Glasses Ready
If you take a look at the partial eclipse on October 14, be sure to obtain eclipse glasses ahead of time. And if you’re really into this kind of thing, travel to place yourself inside the path of annularity. For over an hour you’ll see only a partial eclipse, but for a few minutes it’ll appear as a brilliant ring.
As for the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse: That you must not miss, no matter what you have to do. Mortgage the house. Sell the kids for lab experiments. Quit your job. Miss this and your next chance to catch a US solar totality won’t happen until August 12, 2045.