Many eyes will turn to the sky on Saturday to catch a glimpse of an extremely rare “ring of fire” solar eclipse. But experts are cautioning against looking directly at the eclipse to avoid serious eye damage.
An annular eclipse occurs while the Moon is near or at the farthest point in its orbit around the Earth. The Moon, which appears smaller in the sky because of this distance, passes directly in front of the Sun, creating this “ring of fire” effect.
People across the contiguous United States and part of Alaska should be able to see the eclipse. Most regions will only see a partial eclipse, in which only a part of the Sun is covered up by the Moon.
A fuller eclipse will be viewable in parts of Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Several cities will have the best view, including Eugene, Oregon; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and San Antonio, Texas. In the US, it will begin in Oregon at 9:13AM PT and end in Texas at 12:03PM CT. The eclipse will also be visible in parts of Central and South America.
But please, for the love of God, don’t look right at it. It could burn your retina “pretty badly and almost instantaneously,” NASA heliophysics research and analysis lead Patrick Koehn tells The Verge. And this goes double for looking at the eclipse with sunglasses.
“With sunglasses, it’s kind of a double whammy because you’re still looking at the sun and these glasses aren’t designed to filter out that much light,” Koehn said. “But now your pupils have gotten bigger, so you’re letting in even more solar radiation.”
The preferred way to view the eclipse is to use solar glasses that block out much of the light but still allow you to view the disc of the Sun. Another method is to poke a hole in a sheet of paper, stand with your back to the Sun, and view the eclipse as a shadow through the pinhole on the ground.
Tomorrow’s eclipse actually kicks off a big year of heliophysics, which is the study of the Sun and its surrounding environment. In addition to the annular eclipse, there will be a second eclipse in April 2024 — a total eclipse this time — followed by the Parker Solar Probe, which is the fastest spacecraft ever built by humans.
But tomorrow’s annular eclipse is really the premier event, Koehn explained, because of its rarity. “For an annular eclipse, the Moon has to be close to apogee,” he said. “It’s [the Moon’s] farthest distance from the Earth during its orbit. So it’s a special bit of alignment that has to happen for an annular eclipse.”