Solar eclipse will turn Sun into a ring of fire

The Sun will become a “ring of fire” on Sunday, 26 February, in an annular solar eclipse that will be visible on land only in parts of South America and southern Africa.

Annular eclipse
Three phases of a previous annular eclipse, photographed by the writer from Spain in 2005. Image credit: Paul Sutherland/Skymania

The phenomenon occurs when the Moon is near its farthest point in its orbit around the Earth, and so does not appear large enough in the sky to cover the Sun completely.

The result is that, unlike in a total solar eclipse, the Moon appears surrounded still by a ring of bright sunlight when it is directly between us and the Sun.

The eclipse begins at sunrise over the South Pacific before hitting land in the fjords of southern Chile. The popular cruise port of Puerto Chacabuco and national reserve of Coyhaique are on the central track. The Moon’s shadow sweeps on across Patagonia in southern Argentina before racing across thousands of kilometres of the Atlantic Ocean. It makes landfall again in Angola, in western Africa. The northwestern tip of Zambia is briefly crossed before the shadow enters the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the eclipse ends at sunset, a little east of the city of Likasi.

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A partial eclipse of the Sun will be visible from the rest of Chile and Argentina, plus Paraguay, and much of Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Antarctica, and central and southern Africa on the other side of the Atlantic.

eclipse track
A NASA graphic showing the track, in red, from which the annular eclipse will be vsible. Zones are marked on either side from which a partial solar eclipse can be seen. Image credit: F Espenak/NASA

From the central track, the Moon will actually cover more of the Sun than it did during the annular eclipse we have pictured above, from Spain in 2005, so the ring of light will be thinner. Indeed, unless you are very close to the centre line, the Sun will never appear as a complete ring. At most, it will look similar to the simulated view from Coyhaique, Chile, which we have produced using the free planetarium software Stellarium.

animation of annular eclipse
Animation of annular eclipse

Though the ring will be thin, the fact that the eclipse will be annular rather than total means that there will never be a time when you can view the phenomenon directly without special eclipse glasses or welder’s goggles. Do not attempt to look without proper protection, and normal sunglasses, sweet wrappers or CDs/DVDs will NOT offer this protection!

What is an eclipse of the Sun?

Incomplete annular ring
How the annular eclipse will look around maximum from Coyhaique in Chile, with the Moon offset and so the ring not quite complete. Image credit: Skymania using Stellarium

NASA has produced a video about the February 26 eclipse.

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By Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland has been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. He writes regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy, plus he has authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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