Oct 5, 2023 - Science

Get ready to see a "ring of fire" solar eclipse

An annular solar eclipse

An annular solar eclipse from January 2010 in Kaifeng, Henan Province of China. Photo: Visual China Group via Getty Images

Set a reminder and find some eclipse glasses: Most Americans will get the rare chance to see a solar eclipse on Oct. 14.

The big picture: An annular solar eclipse — also known as a "ring of fire" eclipse — will darken skies above a narrow swath of the country stretching from the coast of Oregon to the Texas Gulf Coast, according to NASA.

  • It's the last annular solar eclipse that will be visible from the U.S. until 2039.
  • Many others in the continental U.S. and parts of Alaska who aren't in the line of the annular eclipse will have the chance to see a partial solar eclipse.

Zoom in: Eclipse glasses are needed to safely view the eclipse, NASA said.

Annular solar eclipse vs. partial eclipse

An annular solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth while it is at its farthest point from Earth, per NASA.

  • Because the Moon is farther away from Earth, it appears smaller than the Sun and doesn't completely cover it.
  • This causes the Moon to appear as a "dark disk on top of a larger, bright disk," creating the "ring of fire" effect, NASA said.

A partial solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth but the three don't perfectly line up.

  • With a partial eclipse, only a part of the Sun will appear to be covered, which gives it a crescent shape.

Flashback: The last annular solar eclipse crossed the western states in May 2012.

Annular eclipse path

The annular solar eclipse will be visible in parts of nine states, according to the Great American Eclipse website, which lists when it will be visible and for how long.

  • It will be visible in parts of Oregon, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
Data: NASA; Map: Will Chase/Axios
Data: NASA; Map: Will Chase/Axios

What time is the ring of fire eclipse?

Details: The annular eclipse is set to begin in Oregon at 9:13am PT and end in Texas at 12:03pm CT.

  • The "ring of fire" won't last long with durations ranging from less than 90 seconds to around five minutes.

When does the partial eclipse start?

For areas in the path of annularity, there will be a partial eclipse lasting about an hour and 15 minutes before and after the ring of fire is visible, per GreatAmericanEclipse.com.

  • The rest of the country will experience the partial eclipse at different times and depending on weather conditions.
  • NASA has an interactive eclipse map to check when the eclipse will be visible and a countdown to the maximum eclipse time.

Eclipse glasses needed to look at Sun

NASA warns that during a partial or annular solar eclipse, there is no time when it is safe to look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection.

  • NASA recommends looking at the eclipse using special-purpose solar filters or eclipse glasses.

Of note: Sunglasses are not safe for viewing the Sun during the eclipse.

  • Safe solar viewers are "thousands of times darker" and should comply with the ISO 12312-2 international standard, according to the American Astronomical Society.
  • Free eclipse glasses are being distributed at 10,000 libraries across the country as part of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation-funded Solar Eclipse Activities for Libraries project.

Total solar eclipse 2024

What's next: A total solar eclipse will occur in the U.S. on April 8, 2024.

  • With this eclipse, when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth, it will completely block the face of the Sun, according to NASA.
  • It will travel through Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

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