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‘Ring of fire’ eclipse will be the last for 16 years

Collegian | Julia Trowbridge
The total solar eclipse, as seen from Casper, Wyoming, at approximately 11:43 a.m. Aug. 21, 2017.

Don’t miss the chance to see this “ring of fire” eclipse — it will not return to the United States until 2039. Here’s why traveling south to view the eclipse could be worth your while.

On Saturday, Oct. 14, an annular solar eclipse will cross over much of the United States. Most people are familiar with total eclipses like the one that passed over parts of the U.S. in 2017. Annular eclipses, on the other hand, are less widely known.


Emily Hardegree-Ullman, an associate professor of astronomy at Colorado State University, said solar eclipses occur when the moon is completely aligned with the sun and Earth. As the moon passes between the sun and Earth, it blocks the sun’s light and casts a shadow on our planet.

“Sometimes, the moon is a little bit closer to Earth, and so it takes up more of the sky,” Hardegree-Ullman said. “That’s when it can block the entire (sun), and you get a total eclipse.”

Annular eclipses are a bit different. The word “annular” comes from “annulus,” a mathematical term meaning “ring-shaped.” These eclipses only happen when the moon’s orbit is near or reaches its farthest point from Earth, called the apogee.

“So even when they’re in perfect alignment, it doesn’t quite block the whole (sun),” Hardegree-Ullman said. “We call it an annular eclipse because you see this ring of light around the moon.”

This creates a dazzling effect for those lucky enough to be in the path of annularity, the 125-mile-wide path in which the annular eclipse is visible. The outer rim of sunlight creates a bright ring around the dark shadow of the moon, giving rise to the “ring of fire” effect.

Although a partial eclipse will be visible from Fort Collins, anyone wanting to see the ring of fire will need to travel farther south. According to The Denver Gazette, Mesa Verde National Park will be a spectacular viewing location.

A NASA map of the path of the eclipse shows that southern Utah and northwestern New Mexico will also experience the full effects of the eclipse.

The peak of the annular eclipse will last for only a few minutes, with over an hour of partial eclipse before and after. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, which lies almost directly in the center of the eclipse’s path, the ring of fire will last for nearly five minutes.

John Lines, a member of the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society, is planning a road trip to Blanding, Utah, to get the full experience. Despite how fleeting the annular eclipse will be, Lines said it is worthwhile to make the trip.


“People think, ‘You drive all that way for a couple of minutes? Are you kidding me?’” Lines said. “There’s no way you can describe it. You have to see it in order to appreciate what’s going on.”

As for what to expect, some might be surprised by how light the sky is during annularity, Lines said. The thin sliver of sunlight is enough to prevent the eerie darkness associated with total eclipse. The colors of the sky are different as well. There will be more of a sunset-like hue than the purplish dusk of totality.

Because the sun is visible for the entire duration of an annular eclipse, it is absolutely essential that any observers wear NASA-approved eclipse glasses or a solar viewer. Regular sunglasses are not sufficient. Looking directly at the sun, even briefly, can cause irreversible eye damage and even blindness.

For those unable to make the drive down South for the annular eclipse, the partial eclipse visible in Fort Collins will still be a special experience. Beginning at 9:14 a.m., the moon will move across the sun for almost three hours, peaking at 10:35 a.m.

And for anyone who is hungry for more solar eclipse viewing, there will be a total eclipse April 8, 2024, though it will not pass over Colorado. This will be the last total eclipse visible from the contiguous U.S. until 2044.

“It’s pretty neat to see the solar system in action right before your eyes,” Lines said. Just remember to protect those eyes by buying eclipse glasses online or building a simple DIY eclipse viewer at home.

Reach Lizzy Rylance at or on Twitter @csucollegian.

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