On October 14th, 2023, a rare occurrence of a “ring of fire” solar eclipse took place in the Americas. Although this event occurred in the Southwestern region of the United States, residents of the Eastern and Northern US were still able to observe the Moon’s shadow partially engulf the Sun, creating a crescent-like shape. Its presence then proceeded to be seen across Central America, and then made its way to South America.

You must be wondering, what is a “ring of fire” solar eclipse? This type of solar eclipse earned its name from its physical appearance and shape. They occur when the Sun’s light encircles the Moon’s shadow, resulting in an “annular” (ring-like) shape.

There are a few different parts of the annular eclipse. At the start, the Moon gradually shifts to cover the Sun. Subsequently, the Moon blocks the Sun’s light. However, the Sun appears greater in size than the Moon, and it therefore leaves a “ring” of sunlight instead of entirely covering the Sun. The duration of this “ring of fire” may range from a couple of seconds to approximately ten minutes. Following that, the Moon’s shadow slowly drifts away from the Sun, ending the eclipse. This whole process takes three to six hours in total, with most of the time being the Moon’s movement towards and away from the Sun.

This event was extraordinary; not only did it provide a beautiful appearance, but it was also a very uncommon event. The annular eclipse in the US before this year was in 2012, and it also moved along the Southwest. After October, the next ring-shaped eclipse in the US will exist in 2046, which proves the infrequency of this phenomenon.

This solar eclipse also allowed scientists to examine the Sun and Moon during special circumstances. With the assistance of rockets that measure changes in the atmosphere, scientists were able to understand more about how the blocking of the Sun’s light affected the atmospheric layers of the Earth. Scientists also often assess the different strengths of radio waves when annular solar eclipses occur.

If you missed this occurrence, look out for another upcoming solar eclipse, which will occur on April 8th, 2024. The next total eclipse in North America is projected to happen in 2044. Unlike a “ring of fire,” which is an annular eclipse, a total eclipse happens when the Moon fully covers the Sun’s radiance.