A radiated moon increasing. Early on October 14, our lunar satellite will float briefly before the sun, obscuring the dawn and plunging millions of people into a strange morning gloom. But this annular eclipse will not be total: since the moon travels in the most distant part of its orbit, it will not block the entire sun. Instead, it will create a bright orange outer ring.
With all our earthly concerns, it’s easy to forget about cosmic mechanics, especially how quickly our planet and the Moon move through their orbits. People who turn their eyes (and goggles) skyward will witness the rare spectacle of the “ring of fire” for a fleeting four or five minutes. That moment, called “maximum annularity,” comes from the mathematical term “annular,” which means “to form a ring.” Partial coverage will last up to three hours.
“We are all moving: the Earth is moving, the Moon is moving and even the Sun is moving. It’s exciting to get a real look at the movements,” says Bruce Betts, chief scientist at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit that promotes space exploration. As the moon moves into the sun’s path on Saturday, more than 95 percent of the sun will be covered, he says. The 4 or 5 percent that will remain visible is part of the chromosphere, or its lower atmosphere. In contrast, during total eclipses, which occur less frequently, the moon blocks the entire sun, making only the sun’s faint corona briefly visible.
The annularity path will first pass through southern Oregon and northern Nevada, with the partial eclipse phase beginning at 8:06 a.m. Pacific Time. The ring of fire will be most visible in those areas around 9:20 am. Southern Utah and central New Mexico follow, with maximum annularity occurring at approximately 10:30 a.m. Mountain Time. The ring should be visible in South Texas at 11:50 a.m. Central Time.
Subsequently, residents of southeastern Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and then Colombia and northern Brazil will be in view of the event.
People who are near the road, but not exactly under it, may still witness a partial ring of fire. Observers in Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver and Houston will see an 80 percent eclipse, meaning the sun will be mostly covered. Of course, all views depend on the pesky clouds staying away. (See the NASA and Sky & Telescope websites for more details on viewing times and locations.)