You're gonna need a bigger mug of coffee. This Sunday morning, when the moon gets between Earth and the sun, enjoy breakfast with an annular solar eclipse.
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This eclipse's path stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic and Africa, through Chile, Argentina, Angola, Zambia and the Congo, according to Fred Espenak, a retired NASA eclipse expert.
Go online to the astronomy website Slooh.com, if you have hopes of catching this "ring of fire" cosmic event. The live stream begins at 7 a.m. ET.
The "greatest duration" of the eclipse — west of Chile in the South Pacific Ocean — occurs at 8:16 a.m. ET, which lasts about 1 minute and 22 seconds, when the eclipse ribbon is 59 miles wide. The "greatest eclipse" part, when the moon shadow's axis passes closest to Earth's center — east of Buenos Aires in the Atlantic Ocean — happens at 9:54 a.m. ET, and that lasts about 44 seconds, according to Espenak.
Thanks to perfect celestial mechanics, a total solar eclipse covers the entirety of the sun's disk. Sunday's event is an annular eclipse (derived from Latin, the word annular means ring-shaped). Since this eclipse occurs about five days before the moon's perigee (when it is at its farthest this month away from Earth, March 3) the moon covers most but not all of the sun, leaving a smidgen of the sun uncovered — the effect is a "ring of fire."
If you are fortunate enough to see it in person, please be cautious. Do not look at the sun directly or through binoculars or a telescope (unless there is proper solar filtration) at the sun.
As always, the eclipse has a family. It belongs to Saros 140, a series that started April 16, 1512. We saw an eclipse from this series on Feb. 16, 1999. We are long past the total eclipses from Saros 140, as the last one was Nov. 9, 1836 — the day after board game maker Milton Bradley was born. The next eclipse in this series will be March 9, 2035 — another annular eclipse.
Of course, this annular eclipse is a teasing preview. Less than six months from now, the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse will be visible from the Pacific Northwest through the heart of the Midwest to a big chunk of South Carolina.
At the greatest eclipse, you can possibly enjoy 2 minutes, 40 seconds of totality. NASA has devoted a full website to the August eclipse, and it provides detailed maps and general information. The U.S. Naval Observatory's website also gives details on that eclipse.
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