You might have seen or heard much talk of a “ring of fire” solar eclipse taking place this weekend. It’s certainly a highlight on an astronomer’s calendar and is set to move directly over the United States tomorrow morning, Saturday, October 14.
While a total eclipse won’t grace our skies until April 2024, the annular eclipse happening tomorrow will block over 75% of the sun in the middle of the day.
According to NASA, an annular eclipse won’t appear over this part of the world again until 2046.
What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Moon, and Earth, align with the Moon passing between the Earth and the Sun thereby blocking sunlight and casting a shadow on Earth. A lunar eclipse, on the other hand, is when Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon, causing the Moon to fall within the darkest part of Earth’s shadow.
There are three different kinds of solar eclipse: a total eclipse, an annular eclipse, and a partial eclipse.
When the word annular is used it implies that, unlike with a total solar eclipse, the sun will not be fully obscured by the moon due to the moon being at its farthest point from Earth and so smaller and consequently not blocking out the sun completely. This in turn creates the ‘ring of fire’ effect with the sun surrounding the moon.
A partial eclipse occurs when alignment is not perfect and so only part of the sun is blocked and we instead see a crescent-shaped sun.
Where and when will the solar eclipse be visible?
The solar eclipse is set to occur over North, Central, and South America and will be visible in all 49 continental US states though many will see a partial solar eclipse.
Those in the “path of annularity” between Oregon and Texas will have the best experience of the celestial event whilst we in the Midwest will be treated to a partial solar eclipse.
In Chicago, the eclipse will start at 10:37 a.m. CT and last for more than two hours through to 1:22 p.m.
How can I best observe the solar eclipse?
First and foremost please note that is important to not stare directly at the sun. Sunglasses do not provide sufficient eye protection, even for a partial eclipse, and special protective eyewear such as solar viewers should be worn.
“This eclipse must only be observed with properly certified eclipse glasses, or other safe observation methods like pinhole projection or shielded solar telescopes,” writes NASA. “Even during the peak of the eclipse, the tiny bit of the Sun seen via the “ring” can damage your retinas and even blind you!”
If you’re not able to view the eclipse outdoors but still want to experience it in some capacity from another location you can tune in to NASA’s live solar eclipse broadcast with experts for a visualization of the eclipse.
[Featured image from Shutterstock]