This Saturday, the 14th of October, North, Central, and South America will see a solar eclipse. The eclipse will be an annular solar eclipse, also known as a 'ring of fire'. Beginning in the US, over Oregon, the eclipse will travel past the Texas Gulf Coast and over Mexico, down to Costa Rica, then Columbia and Northern Brazil, where it will end over the Atlantic Ocean. We've put together a guide to the annular solar eclipse — what it is, where its name comes from, and how to see it.
Why is it called an annular solar eclipse?
There are three types of solar eclipses: total, annular, and partial. A total solar eclipse is likely the one most people are familiar with — this is when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, completely covering it. In 2017, we captured footage of a total solar eclipse from space, as part of a project with the BBC! You can watch our video below.
A partial solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, but the three bodies are not aligned, so the Moon cannot fully cover the Sun.
An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth at its furthest point from Earth (its apogee), which means it cannot entirely cover the Sun and a ring of light — an annulus — is visible around it. This is also why annular solar eclipses are sometimes called the 'ring of fire' solar eclipse, due to the ring of the Sun's light that remains visible.
How can I see the annular solar eclipse?
The annular solar eclipse on the 14th of October will only be visible from North America, Central America, and parts of South America.
The best place to see an eclipse is generally somewhere away from a city and any tall buildings — anything that could obscure your view. Similarly, an eclipse will be harder to see if it's cloudy, so finding an area with minimal cloud cover will increase your chances of seeing the eclipse clearly. If you're planning to go somewhere specific to see it, make sure to check weather reports first.
It's only in the path of the eclipse that the annulus or 'ring of fire' is visible — anywhere else, the annular solar eclipse will appear as a partial eclipse.
How to view the Ring of Fire solar eclipse safely:
As with any solar eclipse, an annular solar eclipse must be observed safely. Looking directly at the sun can cause serious damage to your eyes, and this is no different during an eclipse. During both an annular and partial solar eclipse, part of the sun is always visible and therefore they are never safe to directly view.
To watch this solar event without putting yourself at risk, make sure to use eclipse glasses, also called safe solar viewers. It's important to remember that when wearing eclipse glasses, you shouldn't look at the sun through optical devices such as a camera or binoculars — the concentrated rays will cause damage to your eyes.
Another important note is that sunglasses aren't a substitute for eclipse glasses; you should make sure to buy properly functional safe solar viewers.
How rare is an annular solar eclipse?
Annular solar eclipses can happen as often as once a year, but this year's has actually been a longer time coming. The last annular solar eclipse was in June of 2020 — over three years ago.
While not the rarest of celestial events, an annular solar eclipse isn't a common sight for many of us. It's certainly worth a look — but if you're out to see the solar eclipse this weekend, make sure to do it safely!