The 'Ring of Fire' Solar Eclipse Is Almost Here, Here's How to See It

Clear your schedule this Saturday and look to the sky.

This weekend, if you live in North, Central or South America, you're in for a celestial treat—courtesy of our very own sun and moon.

On October 14, the annular solar eclipse will take place, and it will be visible either fully or partially (depending on location) across the Americas. If you're unfamiliar with what an annular solar eclipse is, the name gives a perfect idea of what to expect. It is an annular, or ring-shaped, phenomenon, in the sense that you will catch the moon placing itself in front of the sun in a way that creates a "ring of fire" effect right around it.

Why doesn't the moon cover the entirety of the sun, though? Well, that has to do with where the moon is placed when annular solar eclipses happen. The reason why you get to see the ring of fire is because the moon passes between the sun and the Earth while it is at its farthest point from Earth, which makes it appear smaller than the sun from our perspective. Hence the annular eclipse shape.

There are, however, different phases to the eclipse, and depending on where you're located, you might be lucky enough to witness a total eclipse or a partial one. Either way, to see it, you must place yourself along the path of annularity, which, as NASA explains, are "the locations on Earth from which the moon will appear to pass across the center of the sun."

In the US, you have plenty of locations to choose from. According to NASA, the annular solar eclipse will begin in Oregon at 9:13 am PDT, and it will end in Texas at 12:03 pm PDT. After that, it will move to Mexico, and it will pass over Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. In South America, it will cross Colombia, and it will finally pass over Northern Brazil before ending around sunset time in the Atlantic Ocean.

Thankfully, NASA put together a table highlighting where and when the eclipse will be visible from a few select US cities. In Alturas, California, annularity will be maximum at 9:20 am PDT, while in Richfield, Utah maximum annularity will be reached at 10:28 am MDT. From San Antonio, Texas, instead peak annularity will be visible at 11:54 CDT. To take a look at the entire table, you can visit this website. You can also view the path of the annular solar eclipse (and compare it to the path of totality for the upcoming 2024 solar eclipse) on the NASA map below:

annular solar eclipse timing october 2023
Courtesy of NASA
solar eclipse map annular eclipse 2023 path nasa
Courtesy of NASA

There's another thing you might want to take into consideration when picking your viewing location, and it's called the "edge effect." As Space.com points out, the "ring of fire" is surely a unique sight, but so is the "broken ring" one.

While positioning yourself in the middle of the eclipse path is your best bet to catch the ring of fire, aiming for either the northern or southern edges of the path is key to catch a glimpse of the broken ring phenomenon. If you do this, you'll see the moon partially blocking the sun rays from one side, which will result in a broken ring of fire effect rather than a full ring of fire. 

However, the coolest part of the broken ring is probably seeing Baily's beads. Due to the moon's irregular surface, even when it is covering the sun resulting in a broken ring, some beads of light are still able to stream through gaps, which is the space between the mountains on the moon. Seeing Baily's beads is a pretty rare experience, and they only last a few minutes as the moon moves. 

If you want a chance at experiencing the edge effect during the annular solar eclipse, Space.com identified seven locations (including spots in Oregon, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado) that will be your best bets.

Now, onto the very important stuff. Do not, under any circumstances, try and look at the eclipse without protective gear! Since the sun is never completely covered by the moon in an annular eclipse, it is never safe to look directly at it without specialized eye protection devices. Your regular sunglasses definitely won't cut it—the lenses, no matter how dark, aren't safe for viewing the sun. If you want to watch the annular solar eclipse with your eyes, you must use safe solar viewing glasses or a safe handheld solar viewer, which are thousands of times darker. You can find more details and a list of the ones that comply with the ISO 12312-2 international standard right here. Also, to make sure you really don't injure yourself, we put together a guide on where to get safe and reliable eclipse sunglasses—you can check it out here.  

Optical devices are also a no-no. Camera lenses, telescopes, binoculars, or any other regular optical device are not safe to use even if you're wearing eclipse glasses or while using a solar viewer. The concentrated solar rays will burn through the filter, which can cause you severe eye injury. For more safety precautions, you can visit NASA's info page.

And since we're talking about lenses and eclipse sunglasses, we have a cool treat in store for you. During the eclipse, try and look at the shade cast by trees and their leaves. As the Washington Post points out, during an eclipse leaves act as a tiny natural "pinhole projector," meaning they grab the "image" of the sun and project tiny versions of it onto the ground. As a result, you'll likely see many little rings or sunlight or sickle-like figures on the ground where the shade is supposed to hit. 

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in and stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities.

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Serena Tara is a Staff Writer on the News team at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.