Eclipse “Ring of Fire” to Shine Over Africa, Asia on Friday

Johnny Cash fans take heed: The first solar eclipse of 2010 will create a “ring of fire” over Africa, India, and China on January 15.

That’s because it will be an annular eclipse, and no, that is not a typo: I mean annular, not annual.

Solar eclipses in general happen because every now and then the moon crosses between Earth and the sun during the daytime, covering up the solar disk and casting a huuuuge shadow over Earth. [Example: a 2006 eclipse shadow as seen from the International Space Station.]

Thanks to Earth’s rotation and the not-quite-circular orbits of our planet and our moon, any given eclipse will be visible from different locations on Earth for different lengths of time and only along a narrow track.

We also get treated to different types of eclipses depending on how much of the sun gets covered up.

An annular eclipse happens when the moon is farther from Earth, so that its apparent size doesn’t quite blot out the sun. These eclipses allow an annulus, or ring, of fiery light to peak ’round the moon.

Last year also kicked off with an annular eclipse on January 26. That eclipse started over the open Indian Ocean, finally crossing over land in Indonesia. You can check out a few of last year’s annular eclipse pictures here.

For 2010, the annular path will start over central Africa, sweeping across Uganda, Kenya, and Somalia. The eclipse will last the longest—11 minutes, 8 seconds—over the Indian Ocean.


—Image courtesy F. Espenak, NASA/GSFC

For those with means and a deep love of eclipses, it might be worth it to rent a boat: There won’t be another annular eclipse lasting that long until December 23, 3043!

Otherwise, the longest this year’s annular eclipse will last over land is 10 minutes, 45 seconds in the Maldive Islands.

From there the path nicks the southern tip of India, hits Myanmar (Burma), and then heads into China, ending at last over the Shandong Peninsula.

In case you’re curious, the second solar eclipse of 2010 will be a total eclipse on July 11. That just happens to be my best friend’s birthday, so maybe this year I should treat her to an eclipse-chasing get-a-way …

Eclipses are actually great tourism drivers, since they make for some pretty dramatic sights in a variety of exotic locations. The 2010 total solar eclipse, for instance, will be visible from land only in the remote South Pacific, including the famed Isla de Pascua, aka Easter Island.

I am drooling with anticipation over the potential photo opps here: Those looming stone heads will make for some pretty amazing scenery against which to frame a total solar eclipse.

So don’t let me down, TWAN, in case I can’t make the trip myself!

Human Journey