Discover the Science Behind the “Ring of Fire” Eclipse on October 14

October 5, 2023

Have you ever seen the Sun partially or fully disappear from the sky? Solar eclipses have fascinated humans and inspired imagination for thousands of years. How much of an eclipse we see depends on where we are on the planet. People travel to some of the most remote places on Earth just to get the best view. Luckily, on Saturday, October 14, you won’t have to go far: a partial eclipse will be visible right here in the Bay Area! We hope you’ll join us at our Eclipse Viewing Party to explore solar science and (safely!) marvel at the eclipse together.

Starting bright and early at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, we’ll have a variety of ways for visitors to observe the Sun and watch as it is slowly obscured by the Moon. Peer through our filtered telescopes or see a large projection of the Sun using our Sunspotters. While you wait for the eclipse to reach its peak, you can create solar-powered art with Sunprints, detect the Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light using UV-sensitive beads, create your own sundial, and more! From The Lawrence, 77% of the Sun’s disc will be covered, so make sure you stop by our 3D Theater for a livestream of the eclipse’s path, where an extraordinary phenomenon called the “ring of fire” will be visible.

“You realize that you’re sitting on this giant ball in space, and these other balls are moving relative to one another.”

Dr. Bryan Mendez, Planetarium Director

An eclipse happens when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, blocking some or all of the Sun’s light from reaching us. As it orbits the Earth, the Moon moves closer and further away from us. The amount of light the Moon blocks varies depending on its distance from Earth. This upcoming eclipse is a particular type of eclipse called an annular eclipse.

“An annular eclipse is a special type of partial eclipse,” said Planetarium Director Dr. Bryan Mendez. “The Moon goes all the way inside the Sun’s disc, but because the Moon is a little further from Earth, it leaves a ring of sunlight around the Moon. It’s called an annular eclipse because annulus means ‘ring’ in Latin, which was often the language used for science communications in Europe for centuries due to the influence of the Roman Empire. This type of eclipse has also been called a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse.”

While it may be tempting to look up to the sky to witness this spectacular phenomenon, it’s critical to observe the eclipse safely. The Sun is incredibly bright, emitting a large amount of UV and other wavelengths of light that can permanently damage our eyes. Looking directly at the Sun is never safe, but have no fear! The Lawrence will have special eclipse glasses available at the event that filter out the dangerous light and make it safe to look at the Sun.

Depending on your location in relation to the Moon’s shadow on Earth, you’ll see different amounts of the Sun’s light blocked. Another eclipse will be observable here in a few months on April 8, 2024. The 2024 eclipse will be a total eclipse, with the Moon at the precise distance from Earth to block all the Sun’s light in some locations. Don’t wait for that eclipse, though, because from the Bay Area, the October eclipse will actually cover more of the Sun than the total eclipse in 2024!

“One of the things that’s really awesome about observing an eclipse is that it gives you a more concrete sense of celestial mechanics in action,” said Dr. Mendez. “You realize that you’re sitting on this giant ball in space, and these other balls are moving relative to one another. An eclipse really drives that home.”

Many eclipses are only visible from very remote places on the planet, so take advantage of this fantastic opportunity! Whether you were here for our last solar eclipse event in 2017 or this is your first time witnessing an eclipse, we hope you’ll join us on October 14 because it will be many years before the next eclipse in the United States.  

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