On September 1, as a dark shadow falls across the morning sky, a burning ring of fire will rise over Africa.
No, it’s not the same ring of fire that Johnny Cash clumsily fell into. And it isn’t heralding an apocalypse or any other brand of worldwide catastrophe (as far as we know). And there certainly won’t be any circus performers riding tigers through it.
Instead, this astronomical phenomenon will be a result of something called an annular solar eclipse.
A total eclipse gone wrong
A solar eclipse occurs during a new moon, when the moon is sandwiched in a perfect line between Earth and the sun, and the side of the moon facing us is nothing but a shadow.
In a total eclipse the moon’s path carries it directly in front of the sun, where it blocks out all of the light and leaves nothing but the faint white ring of the sun’s corona.
Annular solar eclipses are kind of like total solar eclipses gone wrong.
In an annular eclipse, the moon passes directly in front of the sun, but because of the moon’s elliptical orbit, it’s a little too distant and small-seeming to obscure the entire sun. So when the smallish moon sits in the center of our giant, fiery star, it leaves a blazing circle of light in the sky — a ring of fire.
After Thursday’s event, the next annular solar eclipse will occur on February 26, 2017 and will be visible in South America. A total solar eclipse coined the “Great American Eclipse” is slated for August 21, 2017 and will be visible in the continental US (for the first time in 40 years).
How to watch
September’s spectacular annular eclipse will only be visible for about ten minutes along a very thin line through the African continent.
The eclipse will begin on one end of the continent, and end on the other side, off the coast of Madagascar.
But observers in the rest of the world won’t be completely left in the dark. Slooh, an online observatory, will be offering live coverage of the event, offering as many different views as possible.
The broadcast will feature solar scientists, Slooh astronomers, and cultural experts to “help bring a deeper understanding to solar eclipses and their place in the larger culture of mankind.”
Turn around bright eyes
If you do happen to be in the right place (Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique or Madagascar) at the right time (9:08 a.m. local time) during the event, your naked eyes are one of the worst possible instruments to use to observe the eclipse.
Even though the moon is covering most of the sun’s light, that ring of fire will still flood your eyes with a tremendous amount of radiation. A measly 1% of the sun’s light is still intense enough to burn your retina, which is the part of your eye that converts light into signals.
To avoid nasty conditions like permanent eye damage and blindness, you should probably sport some protective eyewear (something a little more substantial than sunglasses) such as eclipse glasses.
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