Solar eclipse happening in the southern hemisphere on Sunday
Africa and South America saw a rare, stunning show on Sunday. Residents and visitors alike were treated to an annular solar eclipse – better known as a “ring of fire” eclipse.
Starting in Chile and Argentina, then moving east across the Atlantic to southern Africa, stargazers watched as the moon moved between the Earth and the sun. In some solar eclipses, both total and partial, a “ring of fire” is seen when the moon blocks the center of the sun, but the solar corona is still visible around the moon’s edges.
Only the southern regions of South America and Africa (along with a portion of Antarctica) enjoyed the annular eclipse of the sun, but surrounding regions of the two continents still got to see a partial eclipse.
While partial solar eclipses happen a couple times each year, total eclipses are incredibly rare, and annular eclipses are rarer still.
Scientists flock to these events, using the brief period in which the moon blocks the sun’s full brightness to study features they otherwise couldn’t observe with the naked eye – the sun’s corona, for example.
Researchers recently found the moon’s strange orbit plays a role in why they happen so infrequently.
Most moons orbit in line with their planets’ equators. But the moon rotates around the Earth at an angle, caused by impacts and close encounters with space debris left over from the formation of the solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. Additionally, the moon’s axis tilts toward the Earth.
This means that the moon doesn’t often line up with the sun in a way that causes a total eclipse. It also means fewer solar eclipses in general.
Unfortunately, Sunday’s annular eclipse is the last one for more than two years. The next “ring of fire” eclipse won’t be seen on Earth until Dec. 26, 2019.
That annular eclipse will be visible in southeastern Saudi Arabia, southern India and Sri Lanka, and parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout most of eastern Africa, Asia and northern Australia.
The same part of the world will get a repeat performance in 2020. The western U.S. can expect an annular solar eclipse in October 2023.
However, in August of this year, North America will go dark for a total solar eclipse, sans the ring of fire. On August 21, the Pacific Northwest will be the first U.S. location to see the total eclipse, which will travel across the northern Midwest and then hook slightly south. The total eclipse will move over the Atlantic off the coast of South Carolina.
While only a few states will get the total eclipse show, every part of the U.S. will see at least a partial eclipse on that day.
By Kyla Cathey, Earth.com staff writer