A Rare 'Christmas Eclipse' Is Coming — and It Will Look Like a Giant Ring of Fire
It’s the ideal celestial gift. From some parts of the world, the sun will be partially eclipsed by the moon and then, for a few precious minutes, a “ring of fire” will appear in the daytime sky on December 26. It’s a special kind of “annular” solar eclipse that, unlike 2017’s “Great American Eclipse,” won’t block out the sun.
What is an annular solar eclipse?
Called everything from a “ring of fire” to a “ring of light," an annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon is relatively small in the sky. The moon has a slightly elliptical orbit around Earth, so it can appear larger or smaller in the sky depending on its position. When it’s close, it causes a supermoon. When it’s far away, and it crosses the ecliptic (the path of the sun through our sky) as a new moon, it fits precisely within the sun’s disk. This Christmas, the moon will cover 97% of the center of the sun.
Where will this eclipse be visible?
Though a partial solar eclipse will be visible across the Middle East and Asia, only those in Qatar, the UAE, Oman, southern India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Guam will see a “ring of fire”. That strange sight will last for a maximum of 3 minutes and 40 seconds.
What’s the best place to watch this eclipse?
Expect the best photos to come from intrepid eclipse-chasers in Saudi Arabia. On the highway from Riyadh to Damman, amid almost guaranteed clear skies, the bizarre sight of a sun rising as a “ring of fire” will be visible. It will be distorted by atmospheric refraction, and it may even be viewable with the naked eye if there’s a lot of sand and dust in the air. That’s crucial because it’s very dangerous to look at an annular solar eclipse with the naked eye. Throughout the entire “path of annularity,” and in locations where the partial solar eclipse is visible, observers will need to wear protective solar eclipse glasses at all times.
When is the next annular solar eclipse?
The next solar eclipse is another annular solar eclipse, which will occur on June 21, 2020. In a beautiful coincidence, that’s also the date of the summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere and the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Rising in hard-to-reach Congo, most eclipse-chasers will gather in the rock-cut monolithic churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia or go north of Lhasa in Tibet to view that event. However, that eclipse will last just 38 seconds maximum.
When is the next eclipse in North America?
The two annular solar eclipses after that will occur in North America on June 10, 2021 in Canada’s Polar Bear Provincial Park in northern Ontario, and on October 14, 2023 across the western United States, Mexico, Central America, and Brazil.
Annular solar eclipses are interesting events, but if you want to experience “totality” as some in the U.S. did during the “Great American Eclipse,” you’ll have to wait until December 14, 2020, when a total solar eclipse rips across a narrow swathe of southern Chile and Patagonia in Argentina.
Jamie Carter is the author of When Is The Next Eclipse: When, where & how to see solar & lunar eclipses. Travel guide 2018-2030.