A rare “ring of fire” eclipse is happening Saturday14 octobre 2023
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow over parts of the Earth and blocking the face of the sun for observers in some locations. This Saturday, on October 14, the moon will pass directly between the Earth and the sun, casting its shadow across Earth’s surface.
Those in the path of the shadow, mainly in the Western United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, will be able to witness a spectacular event: an annular “ring of fire” solar eclipse.
Unlike a total solar eclipse, where the moon blocks out the entirety of the sun, during an annular eclipse, a little light around the edges of the moon still creeps through. That’s because annular eclipses occur when the moon is a bit farther away from the Earth in its orbit.
That extra distance makes the moon appear slightly smaller than the sun, allowing a bright halo to cast around it. This is where the “ring of fire” name comes from. These eclipses look like this. Cool, right? (But don’t stare into it directly. More on that below.) It’s a somewhat rare sight, with only 12 more annular eclipses scheduled for this decade, spread across the globe.
In the United States, the eclipse will be visible (weather permitting) from parts of Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Arizona, according to NASA. The eclipse will begin in Oregon at 9:13 am Pacific Time and end in the US in Texas at 12:03 pm Central Time, before crossing over Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and beyond to Brazil.
For those who can’t make it to the path of the eclipse, NASA will provide a live broadcast. If you’ve read this far and are still wondering about why and how solar eclipses happen and when the next one will be, we’ve got you covered:
Understanding the Complexity of Solar Eclipses
Why do solar eclipses happen? The straightforward answer lies in the moon periodically obstructing the sun’s path across the sky. However, the intricacies go beyond this simple explanation, as three cosmic conditions must align to cast the elusive shadow.
- The moon must be in the new moon phase.
While one side of the moon is consistently illuminated by the sun, it doesn’t always face the Earth due to the moon’s various phases. A solar eclipse necessitates the moon being in its “new moon” phase, with the dark side directly confronting the Earth.
- The moon’s orbit must intersect with the plane of Earth’s orbit.
If a solar eclipse requires the dark side of the moon facing Earth during the new moon, why doesn’t it happen every time? This is because the moon’s orbit doesn’t perfectly align with Earth’s. The moon’s 5-degree tilt, possibly resulting from its formation, causes the shadow to miss the Earth during most new moons. However, at specific points in the moon’s orbit called nodes, the shadow can fall on the Earth.
- The moon’s distance from Earth is crucial.
As you might recall from middle school science, the moon’s orbit around the Earth is an ellipse, not a perfect circle. There are points where the moon is farthest and closest to the sun. For a total eclipse, the moon must be near its closest approach to Earth. If the eclipse occurs when the moon is closest, it completely blocks the sun. If it’s farther away, a ring of fire effect is observed.
A cautionary note: Observing an eclipse requires care. Staring directly into the sun is harmful to your eyes on a regular day, and this risk persists during a solar eclipse.
If you’re going to observe the eclipse, be careful! Staring directly into the sun, even during an eclipse, can harm your eyes. NASA warns that it is never safe to look directly at the sun’s rays. The safest way to observe an eclipse is indirectly by projecting it onto a screen through a pinhole or by looking through a specially designed filter.
If you miss this eclipse, there’s another one coming in 2024. It will be a total eclipse passing over much of the Eastern United States on April 8, 2024. Mark your calendars.