An annular eclipse that hit Southern Africa was visible in Zimbabwe on Thursday morning as the moon passed in front of the sun, creating a brilliant ring of sunlight that lasted for about 10 minutes.
When the moon creates a ring of sunlight during an eclipse instead of completely blocking the solar disk, it is known as an annular eclipse or “ring of fire” eclipse. And although the September 1 event was not a total eclipse of the sun, it was still a stunning sight.
The best place at which the annular eclipse was viewed was Southern Africa with the south of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Reunion Island being the best view for eclipse observers.
Those that were not in Southern Africa tracked the eclipse from NASA’s interactive Google map while others kept up with detailed charts and predictions on sites like Eclipsewise.com.
Another annular eclipse will take place on 26 February 2017 with the point where the eclipse will appear to last the longest located off the eastern coast of South America. It will be followed by a total solar eclipse on 21 August 2017. It is being called the “Great American Eclipse” because the best viewing locations will be within the US continent.
Solar eclipses occur when the moon comes between the Earth and the sun, lining up with the sun as seen by spectators on Earth. In a total solar eclipse, the moon lines up perfectly with the sun and blocks out all light. But in an annular eclipse, the moon doesn’t completely cover the sun; this is possible because the orbits of both the Earth and the moon are elliptical (that is, not perfectly circular).
As a result, the edges of the solar disk peek out from behind the shadow of the moon, leaving a ring of sunlight.
Every 18 months or so, there is one annular eclipse and one total solar eclipse somewhere on Earth. Eclipses don’t occur every time the moon passes between the Earth and the sun because the moon’s orbit is tilted about 5 degrees compared to the Earth’s orbit around the sun. When the moon’s shadow crosses the sun but its center doesn’t align exactly with the center of the sun, it’s known as a partial solar eclipse — when the moon sits either a little too high or too low to totally cover the sun.