October 28, 2020

Watch How Moon Eats Sun And Creates ‘Ring Of Fire’ Eclipse On 21 June 2020

A rare ‘ring of fire‘ eclipse is taking place this month across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

When the Moon is near its farthest point from the Earth, called apogee, its relative size fails to completely block the Sun and leaves the outer rims visible. It creates a ring of fire in the sky.

When the Moon is near its farthest point from the Earth, called apogee, its relative size fails to completely block the Sun and leaves the outer rims visible. It creates a ring of fire in the sky.

The first solar eclipse of the year 2020 will occur this month on June 21. The event will be an annular solar eclipse where the Moon will cover the Sun from the center leaving the outer rim visible, thus creating a ring of fire.

The June 21 solar eclipse will be visible in India as well as much of Asia, Africa, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. Parts of Europe and Australia will also witness the June 21 event.

Path of the Eclipse Shadow

Regions seeing, at least, a partial eclipse: South/East Europe, Much of Asia, North in Australia, Much of Africa, Pacific, Indian Ocean.

Sadly, North Americans will not be able to view this ring of fire eclipse. The eclipse path will start in central Africa at sunrise in the Republic of the Congo, west of the Ubangi River. It will travel northeast through parts of the Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Red Sea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Oman, the Gulf of Oman, Pakistan, and India.

It will then move east and southeast over China and Taiwan, to the Phillippine Sea, pass just south of Guam, then end at Sunset over the North Pacific Ocean.

The point at which the eclipse will reach its fullest will occur over Uttarakhand, in Northern India. A partial eclipse will be visible over much of Africa, Asia, and Indonesia, some of southeast Europe will see the opening stages of the eclipse after sunrise, and some of Northern Australia will catch the end just prior to sunset.

This ring of fire eclipse is actually the second of three eclipses that will take place, which is unusual because there are typically only two eclipses in one eclipse season. The first and third eclipse, however, nearly miss being eclipses at all. The central one is very close to the middle of the season, which is why there is room for three eclipses.

How Do Eclipses Happen?

Annular eclipses are a pretty spectacular sight because of their “ring of fire” appearance, but how does this actually come to be? The answer lies in the Earth and the Moon’s orbits.

In order for the Moon to be completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow, or for the Moon to block the Sun, it must be completely (or nearly completely) in line with both the Sun and the Earth. Every month, both a new Moon and a Full Moon occurs, which theoretically should produce an eclipse. This doesn’t happen, however, because the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not perfectly aligned with the Earth’s orbital plane around the Sun.

Path of the annular solar eclipse on 21 June. The orange line shows the path of annularity from where a ring of fire will be visible, with a diminishing percentage of the eclipse visible as you move further north or south away from the line. Credit: Paul Wootton.

The Moon’s orbit is actually tilted five degrees to the Earth’s orbit, so most of the time a new Moon will pass just above or below the Sun, and a full Moon will pass just above or below the Earth’s shadow. As such there are only two points along the Earth’s orbit where the orbital plane of the Moon and the Earth coincide, and these points are called nodes.

When the Moon happens to be at a new or full phase when it nears a node, we get an eclipse. It does not need to be a perfect alignment for an eclipse to occur- as long as a new Moon is within 18.5 degrees of a node, or a full Moon is nor more than 12.5 degrees from a node, an eclipse will take place, but the more central the Moon is to the node, the most total the eclipse will be.

Eclipse Season

Eclipse seasons last for a little over a month and are usually just under six months apart from each other. Since the nodes are not stationary points and move or “regress”, they happen earlier each year by 19 days. This means that an eclipse year is 346.6 days long. Here is a video from a 2019 solar eclipse over Asia.

This year, the midpoint of the two seasons are in June and December. In June 2020, the Moon will turn new less than nine hours after the June 20 solstice and will sweep right in front of the Sun on June 21, creating a ring of fire solar eclipse.

What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: June 15-21, 2020

June’s short nights make it a tricky yet rewarding month for stargazing in the northern hemisphere, none more so than this week, which ends with the solstice—the longest day, and shortest night, of the year. It also ends with a New Moon that causes a special kind of solar eclipse, at least for some sky-watchers.

The core of the Milky Way in Sagittarius low in the south over the Frenchman River valley at Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan. (Photo by: Alan Dyer/VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Monday, June 15, 2020: Moon at apogee

Today the Moon is at apogee, the furthest point it gets from Earth during its monthly orbit at 404,597 km. That’s not important per se for sky-watchers, but it does come into play later this week by causing a very specific kind of solar eclipse.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020: Venus, the Pleiades, and Aldebaran

For so long a part of the evening sky in 2020, Venus is now a stunning—and fascinating—sight in the pre-dawn sky. As an “inner planet” from our point of view, it often appears as a crescent to us on Earth, and after crossing the Sun a few weeks ago it’s been rapidly waxing in brightness. It’s now 5% illuminated and bound to be a beautiful sight in binoculars or a small telescope. This morning it rises just before the Sun in the northeast in the constellation of Taurus, specifically right between the Pleiades star cluster (above it) and red supergiant star Aldebaran (below it).

A very minor meteor shower, the June Lyrids peaks tonight; expect about three shooting stars per hour.

Venus embraces the Pleiades, and 444 light-years apart they meet every eight years. Beijing, China, April 3, 2020. – PHOTOGRAPH BY Costfoto / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit: Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Thursday, June 18, 2020: Moon joins Venus and the Pleiades

If you’re up early again, have another look for Venus; now 7% illuminated, it will be joined by a beautiful 8% illuminated crescent Moon waning towards its New Moon phase. The Moon will form a triangle with Venus and the Pleiades star cluster.


Friday, June 19, 2020: Occultation of Venus

Just occasionally the Moon slips across a bright planet. That will happen on June 19 when a 4%-lit waning gibbous Moon covers Venus. In what is a relatively rare event, the Moon will occult the “Morning Star” planet. What’s particularly unusual about this event is that Venus will be an 8%-lit crescent, and the Moon will be barely 4% lit, with Venus disappearing behind the Moon’s bright limb and re-appearing from behind its darkened limb.

Although technically visible from North America and Europe, it will mostly only be detectable during daylight, so it’s a highly technical challenge. For most viewers the best views will be of Venus and the Moon very close together.

Visitors celebrate the summer solstice and the dawn of the longest day of the year at Stonehenge on June 21, 2019, in Amesbury, England. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Saturday, June 20, 2020: solstice

Today it’s the June solstice—summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, and winter solstice in the southern hemisphere—when the Sun will reach its most northerly, and highest, point in the sky during 2020.

It will happen at 11:45 Universal Time, which you can translate to your local time here, though there’s nothing, in particular, to see since solstice is a global event.

Although some people like to view the solstice at sunrise or sunset, to me that makes little sense; this is about how high the Sun is in the daytime sky, so I think it’s best to merely take note of how high the Sun is around lunchtime wherever you are.

This combination of photos shows an annular solar eclipse, as seen from the Estancia El Muster, near Sarmiento, Chubut province, 1600 kilometers south of Buenos Aires on February 26, 2017. Stargazers applauded as they were plunged into darkness Sunday when the moon passed in front of the sun in a spectacular “ring of fire” eclipse. / AFP / ALEJANDRO PAGNI (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP via Getty Images)

Sunday, June 21, 2020: a solstice ‘Ring of Fire’ eclipse

“This eclipse is nearly a total solar eclipse because the Moon is 99.5% the apparent diameter of the Sun,” explains Michael Zeiler, an eclipse chaser and cartographer who runs GreatAmericanEclipse.com.

“What is exceptional about this annular solar eclipse is that it’s very short duration allows for dramatic views of extended Baily’s beads and a brief view of the Sun’s chromosphere. “The interplay of the Moon’s mountains and valleys against the narrow annulus ring of the Sun will be a spectacular sight through safe solar filters.”

From an observer’s point of view, that is the main difference between a total and an annular solar eclipse; the former allows you to remove protective solar eclipse glasses during the peak of the event, while the latter does not. The special nature of June’s ring of fire means that eclipse-chasers’ trips to witness the event were being organized well in advance.

This New Moon will block 99.5% of the Sun as seen from the Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, India, Tibet, China, Taiwan, and Guam.

They’ve now been thrown into doubt by the COVID-19 pandemic, but at the time of writing, some were still going ahead. Lockdown and travel restrictions mean few international eclipse-chasers will see it, but keep an eye online for some stunning images from astronomers that live in the path.

An annular solar eclipse, Vigo, Spain, 3 October 2005. Credit: MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)

One expeditionary trip to see the spectacular event is being led by Dr. Tyler Nordgren, an artist, astronomer, night sky ambassador, and author of Sun Moon Earth.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Baily’s beads and all those little ‘edge effects’ as well as an incredibly thin ring, but I don’t entirely know what to expect because I’ve never seen an annular solar eclipse from this kind of altitude,” he says.

Nordgren’s group of eclipse chasers are planning to watch from close to Namtso, a lake north of Lhasa at a whopping height of 4,718m above sea level.

“The impressive thing about Tibet is that we’ll be looking through as little atmosphere as possible because it’s happening at a time of day when it’s very near noon, so the eclipse will occur when it’s high overhead.”

Tibet is also one of the darkest locations on the planet, which makes it the perfect trip for stargazing since all solar eclipses by definition happen at the instance of a new Moon.

“It should be one of the darkest nights we get to experience anywhere in the world,” says Nordgren of this group’s plans to camp out the night before the eclipse.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the summer Milky Way from that altitude.”

Nordgren and his group will experience a mere 23 seconds of annularity. Why so brief? It’s to do with the Moon’s elliptical orbit of Earth.

“Sometimes it’s a little closer to Earth and sometimes it’s a little farther away, and that difference of about 10% is the difference between the Moon being able to fully cover the Sun during the eclipse and it being just slightly far enough away that it appears too small to block out the Sun – a perfect alignment,” says Nordgren.

“That ring of Sun that’s not obscured by the Moon, and still visible during that perfect alignment can be any thickness, and in the case of this eclipse, that alignment happens when the Moon will be just barely too small to cover the Sun, so we’ll see an incredibly thin ring.”

As a consequence of the ring being very thin, the perfect alignment is incredibly short.

“That’s what makes this eclipse so interesting because the shadowed edge of the Moon just grazes the edge of the Sun,” says Nordgren.

Despite the scientific rarity of this eclipse, Nordgren will watch it without optical equipment save for solar eclipse glasses.

“I really want to avoid looking at an eclipse through a camera or through a telescope because it’s a whole world experience,” he says, adding that the glow of the sky around the horizon (safe to view with the naked eye, of course) and the changing hues of the surrounding landscape are just as impactful as studying the ‘ring of fire’ itself.

“My personal feeling is that these eclipses are so much more impressive in a 180° view of the sky,” he says.

Although Tibet is favored for its dramatic view of a very thin annulus, there are other prime locations.

The ring of fire is visible at sunrise in the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then as a higher-in-the-sky spectacle in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, India, Tibet, China, and Taiwan, with a ring of fire sunset in the Pacific Ocean south of Guam.

Meanwhile, a big partial solar eclipse will be visible across much of Africa and Asia.

“Many eclipse chasers will choose Quriyat in Oman because of the near-certain prospect of clear skies and easy access through Muscat,” says Zeiler.

Another favored location for organized trips – though largely for those after an eclipse in tourist-friendly surroundings – is Lalibela in Ethiopia, which is famous for its rock-cut monolithic churches.

However, Astro-tourism is not what serious eclipse chasing is about. For a total solar eclipse, observers tend to head for the center of the path of totality to maximize the duration of totality.

For expeditionary eclipse chasers, that’s not the case with this event.

“For annular eclipses, and especially short duration eclipses, experienced eclipse chasers will choose a location near the north or south limit lines for a very precious few seconds of annularity,” says Zeiler.

“By choosing such a location, an eclipse chaser will enjoy a stupendous view of the last bits of sunshine rolling about the Moon’s disc.”

The Milky Way stretches over the Tibetan sky. Credit: Yiming Li / Getty Images

With proper photographic gear, it will be possible to capture a great view of the Sun’s chromosphere, and perhaps a hint of the Sun’s corona, though great care will need to be taken.

“This eclipse will be so fleeting that observers will bring several dedicated telescopes and long lenses to record the spectacular evolution of this brief eclipse,” says Zeiler.

Whether anyone gets to travel to see the super-slim ring of the fire remains to be seen, but a huge swathe of the planet will, come June, be scrambling for solar eclipse glasses to take a peek.

It promises to be a huge event, which shouldn’t be taken for granted; the next one – on 10 June 2021 – occurs in ultra-remote regions of Canada, Greenland, and Russia.

More proof that if you like your travel convenient and comfortable, think carefully before becoming an eclipse chase

Space.com wrote as follows on this eclipse:

There will be a new moon occurring on June 21 at 2:41 a.m. EDT (0641 GMT), and just 2 hours and 19 minutes earlier, the moon will arrive at the ascending node of its orbit, assuring that it will eclipse the sun.

And because the moon was at apogee — its farthest point from Earth — just six days earlier and is situated at a distance of 241,000 miles (387,900 kilometers) from Earth, the dark shadow cone of the moon (the umbra) fails to make contact with the Earth, and as a result its disk will appear ever-so-slightly smaller than the sun. 

As such, when the moon passes squarely in front of the sun, it will not totally cover it, but instead a narrow ring of sunlight will remain visible. Hence, the term “annular” eclipse, derived from the Latin “annulus” meaning ring-shaped. A fitting analogy is placing a penny atop a nickel; the penny represents the moon and the nickel is the sun. 

This eclipse is going to be potentially blocking out roughly ’99 percent of the Sun’ which will make it quite the treat. That being said, eye protection still needs to be worn by those taking the time to watch this event. For those who may not be aware, this kind of eclipse happens when the new moon is furthest away from our planet which makes it unable to cover the entire sun as the eclipse occurs. When we view these kinds of eclipse’s instead of seeing no sun at all, we are only left with a ‘ring of fire.’

All of this having been said, this eclipse won’t last long and will be over before you know it. Once the event begins it will only last about a minute and a half at most. Yes, it’s that short. 

To learn more about this marvelous celestial event take a peek at the video below. I am quite saddened that I won’t be able to view in person but perhaps you’re somewhere where you can. Would you be interested in seeing something like this or have you ever before?