Tomorrow morning, parts of southern Africa will see a solar eclipse that is a little different. It’s called an annular solar eclipse and is often dubbed a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse.
The moon won’t cover the entire sun. Its apparent diameter is smaller than the Sun’s. Instead, the sun peeks around the moon in a stunning display. NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day perfectly illustrates the incredible sight in store for viewers tomorrow.
Colleen Pinski captured this annular solar eclipse near Albuquerque, New Mexico back in 2012 right at sunset.
Total Solar Eclipse vs. Annular Solar Eclipse
When the moon moves between the Earth and the Sun, that’s a solar eclipse. During a total solar eclipse, the moon lines up perfectly and completely covers the Sun. The area on Earth where this can be seen is called totality. In this small strip, the moon covers the sun and noticeably darkens the area.
Passengers aboard an Alaska Airlines flight in March saw totality approach from 35,000 feet. Watch the incredible video below.
During an annular solar eclipse, the moon moves in front of the sun just like a total solar eclipse. But it doesn’t completely cover it. What’s going on?
The moon’s distance from Earth isn’t constant. The moon doesn’t orbit Earth in a perfect circle. Instead, it’s elliptical. On average, the moon sits about 238,800 miles from Earth. But that number fluctuates between perigee (closest point to Earth) and apogee (furthest point from Earth).
At perigee, the moon is 225,804 miles away. At apogee, it’s 251,968 miles away. Tomorrow morning, the moon will be closer to apogee and will appear slightly smaller as it moves across the Sun’s face.
Where to watch tomorrow’s annular solar eclipse
Slooh and their global partners will be on hand to provide as many views of the annular solar eclipse as possible. Get a nap this afternoon if you want to catch the action as it happens. Slooh’s live stream kicks off at 2:45 am ET.
Slooh astronomers Paul Cox, Bob Berman and Eric Edelman will walk us through annular solar eclipse from start to end. From the basics of what causes them to their impacts on culture.
When is the next annular solar eclipse?
Annular solar eclipses tend to happen every 18 months or so on average. We won’t have to wait that long for the next one. On February 26, 2017, parts of southern South America and Africa will see the ‘ring of fire.’ After February, the next one won’t be until December 26, 2019.
The August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse
If you live in the U.S., circle August 21, 2017. It will be the first time since 1918 that a total eclipse will be visible from coast to coast. The path of totality will sweep from left to right across the United States. Check out the map below.
Mother nature better cooperate that day. And if it doesn’t, I’m not afraid to take a road trip to find a clear spot for totality.