This Sunday, many Americans will flock to a band of states in the western and southwestern continental United States to see an annular solar eclipse, a phenomenon that occurs only every eighteen years. National parks, planetariums and observatories will be hosting “viewing parties” to enjoy this rare occurrence.
During the eclipse, the new moon will pass between the sun and the Earth, obscuring most of the sun’s light but leaving behind a halo of light that astronomers call a “ring of fire.” Due to its elliptical orbit, the moon will be reaching its farthest point from the Earth during the upcoming eclipse, causing not a total eclipse, during which the moon blocks the majority of the sun’s light producing almost total darkness in the middle of the day, but what is called an annular eclipse, during which the moon blocks only 88% of the sun’s light.
A NASA image of an annular eclipse
As a result, it is extremely dangerous to look at an Annular eclipse, and the so-called “ring of fire” can cause permanent damage to the retina. Because the sky will look partially dark, a viewer’s eyes can comfortably focus on the sun during an annular eclipse. However, the lens of the eye will focus the sunlight on the retina, causing permanent burning and scarring. Since the retina has no pain receptors, the damage will be insidious but harmful nonetheless.
There are many ways to safely view the solar eclipse. You can create a pinhole camera using a shoe box, an exacto knife, a piece of aluminum foil, and a piece of white printer paper. You can also order eclipse-viewing goggles online from telescope manufacturers. Some hardware stores also self grade 14 welding glasses, which also allow you to protect your eyes while viewing the eclipse.
Unfortunately for Scarsdalians, the annular eclipse will only be visible in Asia, Canada, and a strip of states across the southwestern United States, beginning on the West Coast in Oregon and a majority of California, spanning southeastward across Reno, Nevada, the Grand Canyon, and Albuquerque, N.M., and ending at sunset near Lubbock, Texas.
However, most states, including parts of New York according to NASA, will likely see a partial eclipse, during which the moon will only partially obscure the sun, causing it to appear as a crescent.