'Ring of fire' solar eclipse will occur this weekend. Here's how to watch.

It could be the most spectacular annular eclipse of the decade.

ring of fire eclipse
  • An annular eclipse is a type of solar eclipse where the edge of the Sun remains visible around the Moon.
  • The June 21 annular eclipse will occur when the Moon is nearly at its apogee, the point in the lunar orbit when the Moon is farthest away from Earth.
  • Only some countries will be able to see the eclipse in person, but several organizations plan to livestream the event.

The Moon will briefly block out most of the Sun this weekend, offering people in Asia and Africa a chance to see a "ring of fire" solar eclipse.

The phenomenon is known as an annular eclipse, which is a type of solar eclipse where the edge of the Sun remains visible. (The name derives from the Latin word annulus, which means "little ring.") Annular eclipses occur about once a year, but the eclipse on June 21 will be particularly spectacular because it'll occur when the Moon approaches its apogee, the point in the lunar cycle when the Moon is farthest away from Earth.

Because the Moon will be especially distant from Earth, it won't obscure the whole Sun. Rather, the Moon will obscure roughly 99 percent of the star, allowing a "ring of fire" to appear, in what will be a near-total solar eclipse.

"Annular eclipses are similar to total eclipses in that the moon, Earth and sun are aligned so that the moon moves directly in front of the Sun as viewed from Earth," Alex Young, associate director for science in the heliophysics science division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told CNN.

"But a total eclipse does not happen, that is the moon does not completely block out the visible disk of the sun because the moon is farther away and so its apparent size in the sky is [slightly] smaller than the sun. This means that a tiny ring of annulus of the solar disk is visible around the moon."

annular eclipse map


The annular eclipse may also provide views of the Sun's chromosphere — a pinkish layer of burning hydrogen — and "Baily's beads," a visual effect of solar eclipses where streams of sunlight travel across the moon's rugged topography. The eclipse will begin at 12:47 a.m. ET and will last several hours, but each specific location on Earth will only be able to see it, weather permitting, for about one minute.

Animation of eclipse moving across the globe

The eclipse will only be visible for some parts of Earth, including parts of Central and East Africa, the southern Arabian Peninsula, Oman, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan, Northern India, and South Central China. You won't be able to see the eclipse in person if you live in the Americas, but everyone can livestream it on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. For more information on the eclipse's path and time of visibility, check out timeanddate.com.

In 2021, another "ring of fire" eclipse will occur on June 10, and it'll be visible at sunrise from northern Ontario and northern Quebec.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Study helps explain why motivation to learn declines with age

Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

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End gerrymandering? Here’s a radical solution

Why not just divide the United States in slices of equal population?

The contiguous U.S., horizontally divided into deciles (ten bands of equal population).

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps
  • Slicing up the country in 10 strips of equal population produces two bizarre maps.
  • Seattle is the biggest city in the emptiest longitudinal band, San Antonio rules the largest north-south slice.
  • Curiously, six cities are the 'capitals' of both their horizontal and vertical deciles.
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Surprising Science

Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

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