After today’s dramatic total solar eclipse in Australia, Timor Leste and Indonesia you may be asking yourself an important question: when is the next eclipse in America?
You’ve probably seen some of the myriad articles published earlier this month counting down to the next big total solar eclipse in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada on Monday, April 8, 2024.
However, there is another—and it happens in just 177 days across the U.S. southwest. It could serve as the ultimate celestial warm-up to the big day in 2024.
If you ever needed an excuse to finally see the the red rocks and beauty spots of the Colorado Plateau and beyond then this “ring of fire” could be it.
Here’s everything you need to know about the “Great Western Ring of Fire Eclipse” coming to the U.S. this fall:
Where will the ‘ring of fire’ be visible from?
On Saturday, October 14, 2023 an annular (ring) solar eclipse will be visible from within a narrow 125-mile-wide path through Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. After that, the Moon’s shadow crosses Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia and Brazil. Annularity lasts longest just off the coast of the Nicaragua–Costa Rica border.
It will begin at 9:13 a.m. PDT in Oregon and end just before sunset at 16:43 BRT on Brazil’s Atlantic coast.
How to read an eclipse map
This map from Sky & Telescope magazine tells you everything you need to know, but it takes some deciphering:
Blue percentage lines refer to eclipse magnitude, the fraction of the Sun’s diameter covered by the Moon at maximum eclipse.
Within the green path, that fraction is about 95%.
Red lines indicate when maximum eclipse occurs in Universal Time, which is four hours ahead of EDT and seven hours ahead of PDT.
There will be no totality. When the Moon is centered in front of the Sun it will cover only 90% of the Sun, with the remaining 10% causing a “ring of fire” around the Moon’s black silhouette that can only safely be seen while wearing solar eclipse glasses.
What causes a ‘ring of fire’ eclipse?
Annular solar eclipses are caused by a slightly smaller Moon (farthest from Earth on its elliptical orbit) blocking just the middle part of the Sun. Only during a total solar eclipse—when the Sun is 400 times farther away than the Moon, but the Moon is 400 times closer—can there be a perfect enough match-up in their apparent size to cause totality.
What will the weather be like?
The good news is that the prospects of a clear sky look promising, particularly in parts of Utah, New Mexico and Texas, where the “ring of fire” will last for about five minutes. It’s the centerpiece in a long three-hour partial solar eclipse.
What are the best places to watch the ‘ring of fire’ from?
If you need persuading that an annular solar eclipse is worth making an effort to see—it is, after all, little more than a pretty partial solar eclipse and at no point will the daytime sky go dark—know that it crosses over 20 U.S. National Parks, State Parks and a certain Monument Valley on the Arizona/Utah border. All you need is a clear sky, but these locations will tempt many to go exploring:
Here are some of the national parks inside the “path of annularity” on October 14, 2023:
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (2 minutes 15 seconds)
Canyonlands National Park, Utah (2 minutes 24 seconds
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah (4 minutes 24 seconds)
Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico (4 minutes 42 seconds)
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (4 minutes 19 seconds)
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado (2 minutes 58 seconds)
Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah (4 minutes 28 seconds)
Another tempting location will be the Maya temple at Edzná on the Yucatán peninsula where a “ring of fire” will shine for 4 minutes 31 seconds.
How to go stargazing before and after the ‘ring of fire’
Since solar eclipses always happen at New Moon—when our satellite is between Earth and the Sun—it’s a time of the month when the Moon is lost in the Sun’s glare and the night skies are moonless. So the week before an eclipse is perfect for stargazing.
As luck would have it, 20 of the national parks crossed by this eclipse path are also certified as stargazing-friendly International Dark Sky Places.
They may occur in the day and night, respectively, but eclipse-chasing and stargazing always go hand in hand.