WSU astronomer: Don’t miss Saturday’s ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse

An annular solar eclipse.
Photo of an annular solar eclipse taken by the solar optical telescope Hinode as the Moon came between it and the Sun (photo by JAXA/NASA).

A shadow of the moon footprinted on the Earth will appear to be ablaze in a glowing ring of fire this Saturday for people across a narrow band of the United States, including the Pacific Northwest.

While the annular solar eclipse will only be visible in its entirety many miles south of Eastern Washington, there is a good chance sky watchers in the region will still be in for a celestial-viewing treat from 8:07–10:44 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14.

“Weather permitting, we will see a partial eclipse of the moon where it will look like a cookie with a bite taken out of it,” said Guy Worthey, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Washington State University. “It is also likely we will see sunspots as we are currently in a period of heightened solar activity.”

The upcoming eclipse is essentially the same as a total solar eclipse, where the Moon passes in front of the Sun. However, this eclipse bears its signature “ring of fire” name because of a specific celestial geometry. As Worthey explains, the moon’s distance from Earth varies throughout the year by about 5%, which can affect its apparent size in the sky.

This Saturday the moon won’t completely cover the sun. Rather, it will obscure about 98% of the star, leaving a mesmerizing ring of the photosphere visible around its edges.

It will be 2046 before another ring of fire crosses into the lower 48 states of the U.S. The WSU Department of Physics and Astronomy is marking the occasion with a watch party at WSU’s Jewett Observatory. The WSU community and public are invited to attend the free event, barring cloudy weather.

“Events like this make us think about our place in the universe and most people don’t think about that very often,” Worthey said. “To me that is really cool. People get that spark and at least for a little while want to know everything.”

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